“Frank?” Charlotte Broome asked. “Frank, is that you? Are you here?” She’d opened her eyes and was staring at the door where Frank Granger and I stood. He looked at Mama uncertainly, and although she nodded and gestured for him to come inside, he couldn’t seem to make his feet move and I could see he was shaking. It’s funny, I’d never thought of grown ups–least of all mean, old Frank Granger–as being scared of anything but I could tell he was downright terrified, just like he’d seen a ghost–which I suppose he had.
“It’s okay, Mr. Granger,” I whispered. “She’s confused right now, probably a fever or something. Come on inside and sit down. I think she’ll be glad to see you.” That seemed to do the trick because after looking down at me and pondering what I’d said, Frank Granger allowed me to take his hand and lead him to a chair that faced the sofa where Charlotte Broome lay. Miss Broome never took her eyes from him as we walked across the floor and as soon as he sat, a smile broke out across her face. “How did you get here, Frank? Why aren’t you in France? What about the war?”
Frank Granger held Miss Broome’s stare. For a minute, I thought he wasn’t going to say anything but then he sat up straight in the chair and seemed to gather his wits about him, like he knew he had a job to do. He cleared his throat before speaking. “The war’s over, honey, don’t you remember?” A look of confusion momentarily clouded Miss Broome’s face but it wasn’t long before the smile returned.
“Have you held him, Frank? Did the sisters let you hold our son?” she asked.
You’ve heard folks talk about moments when time seemed to stand still? Well, this was one of those moments. It was also the moment I stopped being afraid of Frank Granger because I could never again fear someone I felt so dang sorry for. As long as I live, I will never forget the look of shock on his face as he filled in the same blanks Mama and Doc Handy had filled in earlier. He slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes.
“Have you even seen him, Frank?” Miss Broome gently chided him. “Don’t tell me big, strong Frank Granger is afraid of a tiny, little baby?” She laughed and looked at Frank lovingly. “You must see him. He looks just like you.”
Frank Granger had tears rolling down his cheeks but I don’t think Miss Broome saw them; she was too lost in her own world. Frank wiped his eyes with a handkerchief he pulled from his jacket pocket. “I’ll see him soon. I will. I promise.”
“Good,” she said dreamily, as she closed her eyes. “Now, I’m afraid I have to sleep. Will you stay with me while I sleep?” Her voice was soft as she drifted back into unconsciousness.
“Sure, honey,” Frank responded, as he scooted his chair forward and took her hand. “I’ll stay right here. You go to sleep now.”
Folks always said the reason Doc Handy was so dang good at his job was because nothing ever fazed him and I guess it’s true because when he reentered from the kitchen, he acted like seeing Frank Granger sitting there holding Charlotte Broome’s hand was the most natural thing in the world. Doc patted Frank on the shoulder as he crossed the living room to look out the front window.
“Good to see you, Frank,” he said. “I think you may be just what our patient needs.” He parted the curtain again and gazed out the window. “The crowd certainly hasn’t lessened any, has it? They’ll really get to buzzing when the ambulance arrives.” He shook his head and turned back to us. “Before Clarry patched me through to Lubbock General, she said Skeet Thatcher needed to speak to me, thinking he could shed some light on this situation. I just got off the telephone with him.” Doc pulled a pipe from one of his jacket pockets and began filling it with tobacco from a pouch he kept in another.
“And?” Mama asked anxiously.
“For one thing,” Doc said, lighting the pipe with a match and puffing until it caught fire, “he confirms that what ails Charlotte is not tuberculosis, so we don’t have to worry about an outbreak. It’s her heart, just as I suspected.”
“How does Skeet Thatcher know this?” Frank asked, looking back over his shoulder at Doc.
“Apparently, he’s Charlotte’s attorney,” Doc answered, “and it seems he knows a lot about what happened in the past, as well as her current circumstances. I guess she’s given him instructions to tell her story if she’s not able to, so he’s on his way over here right now. I started a pot of coffee while I was in the kitchen. I think we’re going to need it. I suspect we have a long day ahead of us.”
Mama looked in my direction and I could see it finally dawn on her what all I’d heard and learned in the past hour or so. I thought for a minute she was going to make me go home before Skeet showed up, but instead she sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “I suppose sending you away now would be like closing the barn door after the cows got out.” She smiled at me. “Just don’t ever tell your Aunt Beulah.”
(to be continued)
Categories: Story in Progress