Chapter Two ~ A Secret Discovered
Joe and Tony watched the waiter set a sixteen inch pepperoni pizza on the metal stand in the center of the table. The waiter put a slice on each of their plates.
When the waiter left, Joe raised his bottle toward Tony and said, “Salute.”
Tony clinked his beer bottle to Joe’s and responded, “Salute.”
They each took a short drink from their bottles, set them down, and began eating their pizza. The pizza was New York style, thin crust, with fresh buffalo mozzarella, and pepperoni imported from Italy. Joe folded his slice and took a healthy bite. He closed his eyes for a moment as he slowly chewed it. He said nothing. When he finished his slice, he used the small spatula to take another piece and set it on his plate. He took a sip of his beer, put the bottle down and said, “Tony, how long have you know me?”
Tony was surprised at the comment. He said, “Hey, we grew up together. You’re six months older than me that makes you 29 in two more months. So?”
“You knew my mom and dad, right?” asked Joe.
Tony looked confused, “Your mom and dad were like second parents to me. I loved them almost as much as my own. I still have a hard time with the way they got killed in the car accident last month. It wasn’t right. Your dad was what, 55 years old? And, your mom a couple years younger.”
Joe took a deep breath, and began, “I know, Tony. I’m still grieving. Some days, it hurts like hell.”
“Maybe you need to go to counseling,” said Tony.
“Maybe you don’t need to interrupt me, just listen, okay?” said Joe.
Tony held up both hands in surrender, he said, “Not another word.”
Joe took a bite of his slice, put it down and then took a sip of beer. He took a deep breath and began. “You ever hear the old saying, things are never as seem.”
Tony nodded, being careful not to say anything.
Joe continued as if he were talking to a tree, “I’m their only child. They are the only parents I’ve ever known. Everything I’ve accomplished I owe to them. They were so good to me. They wouldn’t let me take out college loans. Instead, they took a second mortgage on their house to put me through to make sure I was debt free when I graduated. I can never repay them for what they did for me.”
Joe stopped talking and he looked away staring out the window into the parking lot. He felt a surge of emotions beginning to flood through him. He felt regret he never told them as much as he wanted that he loved them. He felt regret he couldn’t prevent a DWI from running a stop sign and careening broadside into them. He felt regret he was always too busy with work and his social life during the past ten years to make much room for them.
Tony sat across from his brooding friend, a thousand questions ran through his mind. Every question slamming it brakes on at a stop sign he mentally placed in front of them.
Joe turned back to Tony, “I’m the sole beneficiary to their estate. It’s no big deal. They were still paying off the second mortgage they took out for me. Dad had a 401K account, it’s worth three hundred thousand dollars. They didn’t live long enough to collect their retirement. There is a money market, savings account, and checking account all together they’re under a hundred thousand. They didn’t believe in life insurance. The driver who hit them didn’t have insurance and was unemployed. I’m going through all this stuff now. You don’t think about this stuff and them boom, it’s hits you all at once and you’re not prepared.”
Joe stopped, took a sip of his beer, then a bite of his slice. When he finished, he continued, This past weekend, I went over to the house. I want to get it ready to call a realtor to put it on the market. I don’t want to live in it. It’s painful just opening the door. As soon as I walked in, I expected to see dad sitting on the sofa watching the Sox play. I expected mom to rush out of the kitchen and hug me and give me a kiss. I can’t shake the feeling they’re still alive and will suddenly show up. You know, it’s like they went away for a few days and suddenly come back home.”
Tony wanted to tell Joe, ‘It’s going to take time.’ But, he knew better. He took hold of his bottle and took a sip, not because he was thirsty, but because he wanted to let his best friend talk without him asking a question.
Joe gave a slight, wistful shake of his head and said, “They were packrats, they must have kept everything they ever bought from the day they were married. I started to go through a large box of photos and had to stop. It was too painful. I closed it up. I don’t know what I’ll do with them. Then there’s the Christmas boxes. Mom loved Christmas. There was box after box of Christmas lights and ornaments.”
Joe stopped for a moment. He finished his slice and put another slice on his plate. He took a bite, then looked at Tony and said, “If I keep going down memory lane, we’ll be here until they close.”
Tony waved him off with a swipe of his hand.
“I appreciate it, Tony. You’re a good friend. I’ll get straight to the point. I climbed the stairs into the attic. I wanted to make sure they were no boxes hiding up there. I found two boxes. One box was filled with tax returns going back twenty years. Why they kept them, I have no clue. I need to have them shredded. I opened the other box and it was filled with dad’s old army clothes. They’re more than thirty years old. He must have thought he’d get called back in.” Joe stopped for a moment and laughed at his joke. Then he continued, “I closed both boxes and moved them toward the attic opening. The box of taxes was the heaviest. They must have kept every tax return and documenting papers going back through every year of the marriage. It must have weighed a hundred pounds. I made sure I carefully picked it up. I didn’t want to hurt my back.”
Joe continued, “I picked up the box of clothes. It was light compared to the tax documents. When I set it down, I felt something shift inside, like a box within in a box. I didn’t see another box in there, but I didn’t poke around. I assumed it was all clothes. I opened the box and dug in and moved dad’s army clothes around. I found a metal box wrapped tight with duct tape. I shook the metal box, and I head something sliding around. I didn’t think much of it at the moment. I thought there might be some important papers I need to read regarding Mom and Dad’s estate. I carried the metal box out of the attic and took it home. I spent enough time trying to deal with memories.
“When I got home, I set the metal box on the table. I fetched a pair of scissors, and sat down at the table. Before I began cutting the duct tape, I carefully scanned the box to see if there was anything printed on it. I didn’t find anything. When I opened it, I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head.”
Joe closed his eyes and he began the journey to a time when he was eight years old.