Vernon brought out two big ceramic mugs of coffee and sat one before his son-in-law, Alan. Neither of them were very awake yet, but he thought that Alan looked particular ‘heavy-eyed’ this morning.
Alan was sitting in his favorite old chair, beneath his favorite blanket. His expression said that he was trying not to wake up too fast.
“Here you go son, This should help lift those lids. I made it strong and added some of your vanilla creamer.”
Alan reached for the cup and carefully took a sip and settled back to let that sip surround his tongue and warm him as it slid down his throat. “Umm. You – you make a perfect cup of — coffee and, I’d swear that — it goes straight into my blood. I can — feel it soaking in. Thank you.” He pinched his eyes shut every time he struggled to get the next word right.
Ellie walked into the room carrying a tray with three breakfasts and set it on the center table. She moved a special table to sit in front of Alan and he carefully held his coffee up while she wiggled the table into place and set his breakfast before him.
“Thank you — young lady. You made my — favorite.”
“You’re welcome, Love. I know how much you like toast with an over easy, runny yoke egg. Even though I can’t bring myself to eat one myself, I know you love them.”
“Did you know — I was raised on that exact breakfast. Father loved them too so we, umm. . . .” His eyes stared off to nowhere as he tried to recall what he was going to say.
Vernon took a long sip of his coffee and as Ellie settled into her own chair, he turned to ask, “What do you think Alan? Should we go back down to the pool today? If we go early enough, we’ll miss most of the kids.”
“I don’t mind the — kids, but sure, I like the pool if — I can — find my swim goggles.”
“I know where they are, Love,” Ellie answered. “I’ll grab them.”
Alan turned to Vernon and asked, “Have I ever told — told you about the redhead I once . . . ”.
Ellie interrupted, “Alan please! Not another girlfriend story.”
Vernon answered, “No – no. I’d like to hear it.”
“Dad, you’ve heard it a dozen . . .”
“But I like it,” he said with a smirk.
“Men!” Ellie answered, shaking her head with mock outrage.
“When I was in — grammar school, there was one redheaded gal who stuck out. The girls didn’t like her and — ignored her so she didn’t have many friends. We boys were scared of her because even in third and fourth grades, she was way more physically mature than the other girls. It didn’t help that she was also taller than all the girls and many of the boys. She – she looked 14 years old surrounded by 9 year olds. She was kind of gangly and awkward.
“Anyway, she disappeared in the summer before fifth grade and no one knew where she went. Years later, I was in high school and Mom signed us up for swim club down at the Olympic size-city pool. One day, my group was done but my sisters still had two hours so I goofed off by myself down in the deep end until it was time for mom to pick us all up. There were several people there, but most didn’t come until later when the whole pool was freed up after the swim club was done.
“I was practicing diving off the low board and a line began forming as more people arrived. Suddenly, a strange voice behind me said, “Alan? Is that you?”
“Alan, must you tell this story again? You had too many girlfriends and . . . “
“Oh Ellie – let him finish. He was just getting to the best part.”
“I’m glad you enjoy them. His old girlfriend stories don’t do squat for me,” and she went back to her scrambled eggs and melon.
“Okay, Alan, what happened next?”
“I – I turned around and there was this stunning redhead right behind me in the most shocking pink frilly bikini I’d ever seen. I was so tongue tied she laughed at me because I could barely get my eyes off of her bikini top.”
“Ha – I don’t know what I would have enjoyed more; seeing that bikini beauty or watching you lose your cool over such a pretty girl.”
“We had plenty of pretty gals in the swim club, but none ever showed up in a bikini. I was starting to panic because I could not figure out who she was and she knew my name. I felt like a – a drooling idiot. She finally had to remind me.” Alan leaned over towards Vernon, “She was that same gal from grammar school. I couldn’t believe it. I was taller then and once I knew it was her, she didn’t look that different except that she grew into that body which stood out so badly in the fourth grade.
“We stepped out of line; talked for a while; swam and dove for a while. I recovered my composure some, but man; swimming with this stunning girl who looked even more amazing down at the bottom of the 12-foot end through my swim goggles with her hair drifting all around her — she was mesmerizing.
“I used to get bored waiting for my sisters to finish up, but that day – I wanted the clock to slow down so I could just swim and talk with that grown-up no-longer-gangly redhead from grammar school. I realized what all the other girls in school had against her. She was much more attractive than any of them and as we talked, I learned there was also a fun and likeable person beneath all that red hair.”
Vernon smiled broadly and enjoyed how animated Alan had become as he relived the story of the pink bikini-clad redhead. His son-in-law was slipping slowly each day into early onset dementia. His sentences were getting shorter and his train of thought more broken. But some of his older memories remained vivid as he recounted them.
“So –” Alan continued after some strained thought, “I recall that we dated through the — rest of high school. We were from opposite sides of town and so — different schools — such great times together.”
His story suddenly stopped as Alan hit a wall he could not see past. “But she — was such a nice gal. You would have liked her.”
“Okay you two, if we’re going to hit the pool before the kids, I need to clear up and you two need to get into your swim trunks.”
Alan looked up, a bit confused, but swimming made sense so he got up and walked off to change.
Vernon stood up, stretched and helped Ellie pick up dishes and followed her into the kitchen.
“He’s getting worse dad. Please be careful because when he realizes he’s missing something he should know, he get so depressed.”
“But did you see his smile as he told that story? When was the last time you saw him that happy?”
Ellie smiled back, thinking that he really sounded like her Alan again for those few moments and it was wonderful.
“You know Ellie, the navy kept me away for most of your high school years and I missed so much. Now that I think of it, I never actually saw you in that pink bikini. I’ll bet you were quite a traffic jammer. Whatever happened to it?”
Ellie snorted a laugh, “I still have it and even after 2 kids, it — still — fits.”
“Ha, that’s easy to say daughter-of-mine. We’re on our way to a pool now. Here’s your chance to prove it.”
She waved him off and disappeared down the hallway.
Alan and Vernon were holding their towels and chatting by the door when she emerged — wearing that bikini, causing both men to gasp.
Ellie smirked, a bit embarrassed, but then tightened her jaw. “Okay, Dad. Let’s see who can stir up the best memories now.”