“Take a seat.”
I look him up and down. Seemed only yesterday when his mother brought him to see me for the first time. All bundled in his soft blue wool blanket, and looking as small as a peanut, I’d known he’d grow into a fine man. And grow he did. Now he’s moving to the big city and make a name for himself.
“Your father’s a good man. He’s taught you well. Your mother’s a good girl. She’s always been. And you’ve been a good son to them, and a good grandson to me. But soon you’ll be gone to the big city. Today I’m going to tell you something important. You listen, now.”
“I brought up your mother and her brothers and sisters on our farm all those years back, and kept them healthy and happy and safe from harm. You mother and aunts and uncles all grew into fine people and married and brought up their families the same way I did: hard work and a good attitude. But there was one thing I did that I’ll never forgive myself for doing. And promise me you’ll never, ever, repeat what I had done.”
He nods again.
“There was one woman besides your grandmother that I ever looked at. She was a fine looking woman, and her name was Melissa. All those years ago I had fallen for her, and nearly spent our farm’s worth of money on her. She was a lie, a gosh darn scam. I doubt she even ever cared about me, or ever thought about me besides what my money could bring her. But I had fallen for that woman, and I had fallen for her hard.
“I met her one night at the old man’s pub that I always went to. This time I went to blow-off some steam. Money was getting tight, but that’s how everything was back then. I was sitting a table, waiting for my drink, when she walked by. I had never seen her before; she was from some town far away. But even for a beat-up, lonesome girl, she looked good. There was something about her that made me keep my eyes on her. She seemed out of luck, and out of money, but the way she moved, the way she looked around the room, she seemed smart, and refined, almost. Before I knew it, I had gotten her a drink and we were laughing the night away. That was a good night, a good first night that led to many more.
“For months I saw her every Friday and Saturday at the old man’s pub. Just looking at her made me so happy. So I wanted to make her happy. I bought her the best, even better than I ever got for your grandmother. Necklaces with stones that cost me hundreds and clothes that only city people wore.”
And for a second I stop. Her eyes and the way they brightened when I brought her something new now rush before me. The jewelry, the clothes, she was always so happy when I gave them to her. But she probably didn’t care. She only wanted to know how much they were worth, how rich she’d look with them on. She probably sold them a few months later.
“The last time I ever saw her was the day I nearly left your grandmother. We had been arguing all day long and I nearly hadn’t noticed it was time to go the old man’s pub. Money was running really low from all my spending on Melissa. She was suspicious, but I left anyways. When I met Melissa, my troubles just faded all away. I told her I wanted her to stay forever, never leave this town, and never leave me. I told her I’d choose her over anyone else. I had hoped so hard she would stay. She smiled at me, warm and ready. But for a moment her eyes filled with sudden fear. Was she was afraid because staying meant time for me to find her lies? Or had I said what her heart most feared? Was she afraid of love? When I looked again she was back to wearing that same charming look that made me want her so much more. In the end she told me that I would see her tomorrow, at the old man’s pub, as I always had. That’s all she said. No warning that she would run off and never come back. No warning that it was the last time I would ever see her. That night, as I walked home, I reached for my wallet, but it was gone. She had stolen it, and it was then that I finally began to realize what she was doing to me.”
“Must have hurt. The day you realized you lost her.”
Craig looked back at me with cautious eyes. How did he know? How did he know that the day I finally understood she was gone forever, I knew she had stolen a part of my heart and was never going to give it back. I had loved her. And I did more than love her. I gave her everything she wanted. I made the terrible, lost woman feel like she was beautiful. She was beautiful. But she hurt me more than I could have ever thought possible. Could Craig see it in this old man’s eyes? Maybe. But would I tell him?
“No. The only thing I hurt was my family. You’re grandmother was the sweetest little lady in the world and I nearly left her. As long as a live I shall never again commit such a crime as letting her down. And one day when you meet the right girl, you go on and marry her. But don’t you go looking at the other pretty ladies. That’ll only bring us trouble. Got it, boy?”
“Never trust anyone but us. Only family.”