Chapter 17 ~ Grace couldn’t stop the tears from flowing.
Brad stood in front of the picnic table, smiled at Matt and Grace. He said, “Is this seat taken?”
Matt blurted out, “We saved it for you, Brad. Did you get a hamburger and veggies, too? That’s what I got.”
Brad tilted his plate toward Matt and smiled, “Looks like we like the same kind of food, Matt.”
Matt looked at Grace, “I told you so, Mom.”
Brad sat down opposite Matt and Grace. He looked at their untouched plates, “Thanks for waiting me.”
Grace smiled and said, “Do you mind joining hands with us and saying grace?”
“It’d been an honor,” said Brad.
Matt and Grace joined hands with Brad. Brad said, “Thank you Lord for this food. Thank you for the fun I had tossing footballs to Matt. And, thank you for Matt and Grace and Jane and Larry. Bless each of us and guide us on our journey. Amen.”
Matt had no sooner blessed himself with the sign of the cross when he said, “Brad, tell Mom how you blew out your knee in the OU game.”
“I think your Mom might not be as interested as you, Matt. My knee’s okay now, that’s what counts. Let me start from the beginning. I’m Brad Silva. I work for the State’s extension service, so I’m out in the field working with farmers, ranchers, and that kind of thing.I love the outdoors. I don’t think I could stand being cooped up in an office. As far as my knee goes, I partially tore my ACL in a football game. That’s what Matt refers to blowing out my knee.”
“He didn’t tell the coaches he injured his knee until after the game, Mom. They beat OU that year,” said Matt.
“It would have been wiser for me to tell the coaches how bad it hurt right away, Matt. I think I made the injury much more worse than it actually was and that’s what caused my football career to be shortened. It didn’t stop me from serving four years in the Army. Everything works out in the end. I’m happy with my life. What about you, Grace. What do you do?”
Grace stared at Brad. He served in the Army, I wonder if he met Mike? “Huh? My mind wandered for a second. Do you mind repeating your question?” said Grace apologetically.
Before Brad could speak, Matt interrupted, “My dad was in the Army. He was Ranger. He was with the 82nd Airborne. He was a captain when he was killed.”
Grace put her hand on Matts forearm, “I’m sure Brad doesn’t want to hear the story. He was asking me a question, remember your manners.”
“Sorry, Mom. I just got excited, that’s all,” said Matt.
“Brad smiled. I understand how you feel. I’ve never been associated with a better group of people in my life than when I was with the 82nd.”
Grace was fighting an emotional storm. She needed some help and needed it quick or she was going to start crying. She tried to think of something else, her mind kept Mike fresh in front of her eyes. Grace said, “I need a Perrier. I’ll be right back. Anyone else want anything?”
Before Brad could offer to get Grace her Perrier, she stepped away from the picnic table and headed toward the cooler. The tears began to flow, she couldn’t stop them if she tried. Grace didn’t sob, it was the damn tears, they had a mind of their own flowed whenever they wanted to flow. She was nearly at the cooler when she heard Brad’s voice.
“Grace, it’s okay. Don’t run away from it.”
Brad was standing five feet behind her. Grace turned and said, “I’m sorry. Sometimes it just happens.”
“Jane told me your story. I understand. I didn’t know Mike and I’m pretty sure our paths didn’t cross. If they did, it wasn’t in a formal way.” Brad stepped closer to Grace and put his arms around her shoulder the way a friend would console another friend.
Grace turned and rested her head on his chest and let the tears flow. The storm vanished almost as soon as it started. Grace pushed away from Brad and said, “I must look a sight. It’s a good thing I don’t wear makeup, I probably look like someone out of a horror or sci fi movie anyway.”
“Let’s get that Perrier and enjoy our meals with Matt,” said Brad.
They walked to the cooler as friends would walk. Grace said, “My full name is Grace Conti. Mike and I were married ten years when he was killed in action. I was never told exactly where or how, but he received the Silver Star posthumously. I still cry. I probably will never forget Mike. I work as a 911 dispatcher during the week. It’s Matt and me against the world. We’re doing it our way. That’s my story.”
Brad didn’t say anything. They walked quietly back to the picnic table. Matt was nearly through eating his hamburger when they returned. He looked up at Grace and Brad and said, “Did you see the sign at the entrance? It said beware of black bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, and feral hogs. I’ve only seen them on TV. Can we go for a hike tomorrow, maybe we’ll spot a bear or a mountain lion?”
“That’s your mom’s decision, not mine,” said Brad.
“There’s enough to do around camp. We can swim, canoe and go fishing. Besides, I didn’t take my hiking shoes,” said Grace.
“Can I go, Mom. I’m not afraid. I won’t go far, promise,” said Matt.
“Matthew,” said Grace.
“Okay, Mom,” said Matt.