"Hello?" I answered in my gruff voice.
"Mr. Romalotti?" the woman on the other end asked. But before I could get a word in, she rushed on. "This is MCI, and..."
"I'm not interested." I said sharply and slammed down the phone. I hate salespeople. Well, I hate about everyone who crosses my path and telephone companies are no different.
Taking a deep breath, I shut the call out of my mind and pushed myself from the uncomfortable wooden chair to my feet. All my bones creaked and cracked as I did so. Man, I thought to myself, my body isn't what it used to be. I grabbed the cane propped up against my favorite recliner and trudged to the bathroom to relieve myself. Once done, I slowly walked to the sink to wash my hands and saw my old, decrepit face.
My face is swarming with wrinkles. They are everywhere, like stripes on a tiger. A lock of hair was lying on my forehead and made me look somewhat boyish. My hair and mustache were no longer touched with gray, but covered with it. Not a blond hair could be found. Yes, I thought to myself, times were really changing.
* * *
As I got ready for bed that night, my eyes caught the picture that was on my night stand. It was of me, my oldest daughter Shantel my baby, Beth, and my wife that had passed on a while back. We were in front of a hotel in Appleton, Wisconsin where we had gone to vacation some odd years back. Those were the times. My family was my life and I would have done anything for them.
Shantel was always the bold, daring one. When she was five, she told me she wanted to fly like Big Bird. I told her that if she did good in Kindergarten and tried hard, that it would help her chances to grow wings. She believed me for the longest time, but then she soon caught on. She was always too smart for me. During high school, she was always the rebel. She had to go to the extreme on everything. That's about the time when we slowly drifted apart. She wanted freedom, and I wanted my little girl home where she was safe from mankind. And now, even though she's totally grown up and has a life of her own, we still don't talk.
Beth was always by my side and we always got along great. She was shy and she didn't need to grow wings like Shantel thought she needed to. Even through high school, the hardest time to raise a child, she was good and stayed out of trouble the best she could. We talk on the phone all the time, and she makes sure that we see each other all the time.
I wish that both my kids were kids again and that Shantel and I were closer, but unless something drastic happens, I doubt she'll ever want to see me again.
The sound of the pounding on the door the next morning woke me with a start from my splendid slumber.
"Inconsiderate people!" I moaned and staggered to my feet from the bed. "Darn noise could give me a heart attack! I could go into cardiac arrest! Talk about rude awakenings!"
Grabbing my cane, I pushed towards the door, muttering under my breath the whole way about the world now-a-days. After unlocking the deadbolt, I swung open the door.
"What do you want? Don't people ever carry watches around anymore in this God-forsaken world? The rooster hasn't even crowed yet."
After having said what I thought summed up my whole attitude over the whole darn occurrence, I looked to see just who I was yelling at. At first, with my eyes staring straight ahead, I couldn't see anyone. But as I bent my head further down, down, and further down yet, I finally saw her. There, about three-feet tall, stood a little girl hugging this brown, very worn out, disgusting teddy bear. The little girl had big green eyes, long curly hair, and the longest eyelashes I'd ever seen. Her bottom lip was thrust out and her eyes were watering.
"You mean old man!" she said in a little voice.
How could this little girl make that much racket? My ears were definitely playing little tricks to confuse my already confused mind.
"What do you want?" I asked in my meanest voice. There's no point in letting her think that I could be softened up by a sweet and innocent voice. "If you're selling some dumb Girl Scout cookies, then don't bother asking. My doctor said I was to keep off the sweets. And I'll be darned if I'll buy them and then let them rot in the cupboard. Besides; too much temptation."
"I'm not selling anything, and I'm not a Girl Scout." She said a matter of factually. I could tell that she was starting to get some spunk back. I hoped she didn't have too much spunk though. I'm too old for this kind of thing.
"So why are you standing on my front door then?"
"Me lost!" she said simply, then burst into tears.
Her emotional outburst touched my heart a little, not enough to make a dent, but I felt it. I've always been helpless when females cried, and this time was no different.
"Don't just stand there in the hall crying like some two-year-old. Come in. Hurry up, you're letting all the cold air in. Just don't touch or break anything. This place ain't no daycare, and I'm too old to be watching little kids. Hurry up. Don't dawdle." After she finally came in, I led her to the front room. This was the place that in my whole house needed the most work. Most of its contents were old and worn and ready to fall apart. I had planned to fix the place up when I retired, but retirement isn't what it's like on TV There's never enough energy, money, or time to do anything drastic. Besides, I'm the only one who looks at the place anyway. I don't get much visitors. I got back to the problem at hand.
"Where so you live?" I asked. It seemed like a logical question.
Before answering, she daintily jumped on my old couch. Its old springs screeched in protest, but it held her little weight. I've had that couch since 1967, and, let me tell you, its manufacturers don't even make that kind of couch anymore.
"I live with my mommy and daddy," she said smartly as she wiped her sleeve across her tear-streaked face.. She made it sound like I was stupid for not knowing that.
"So where are they at, Ms. Smarty Pants?" Maybe I was acting immature, but a man my age deserves to act like that every now and then.
"They went bye-bye without me!" she answered, her eves threatening to water up once again. Man, that girl's like a waterfall. Wonder if she ever stops? Thinking that the only reasonable thing to do was to ask her name, I did.
"Well, I'm not supposed to talk to strangers. Are you a stranger? She looked at me intently, waiting for my answer.
"No, thanks to you, we're not now."
"O.K. Well, my name is Haley Ray West." she said proudly. A little ringlet of hair bounced with her fast nod.
"Well." I tried to stall, thinking about how much information about myself I should contribute. No one is trustworthy these days, even a little girl. They raise spies early these days. "My name is Garvey Romalotti, but you can just call me Mr. Romalotti."
I had nothing else to say. I was getting more uncomfortable by the minute. She, too, was silent, not making a peep.
The trill of the telephone through the tense air made us both jump with surprise. I crept over to answer it, dreading whoever was on the other line. I hate talking on phones and think that mankind would be a lot better off without one. I only have one in case one of my kids call.
"What?" I asked, my voice impatient.
"Hey, daddy!" The energetic voice said enthusiastically.
"Beth. What a great surprise! So, what's up?"
"Well, I just called to see if you're going to our house for Thanksgiving? It is in four days, you know. And I know how you put things off until the last minute, but Sam and I want you to be here to celebrate with us."
"Will Shantel be there? You know she won't go if she knows I'm there. I don't think she likes me very much. The only time I hear from her is from her Christmas cards, and that's only because she feels obligated. All she ever writes is Love Shantel and Family.
"Daddy, please don't start on her! I asked her, but who knows what she'll do. I told her that you were going to be there, so let's just see what she says."
"Well, if I'm not in my grave by then, I'll come."
"Oh, Daddy, you know you're too ornery to die. You'd be kicking and screaming the whole way there."
"Things change Beth. One day you'll wake up and realize that everything you once cherished is suddenly not so important. And you've spent your whole life believing in things that will never help you in the long run. Just be careful. I wasn't."
We talked a little more about everyday news and then ten minutes later, we hung up.
I walked back to the living room to catch my little guest snooping through my old gray box. The box that has every favorite memory in it. All my fondest pictures.
"Excuse me! What did I tell you about leaving my stuff alone? If I wanted you to see that box, then I'd show you myself. Now git! Didn't your parents teach you anything?"
"I know my ABC's! Want to hear them?" She didn't wait for an answer and started reciting. I didn't see the point of her saying them, but she chanted happily. She continued to chant and added some little corks in, and soon I was mesmerized by her performance. The snooping was forgotten as she started to skip around the room and grow more excited by the minute.
"Do you know your ABC's?" She asked innocently. Her gaze was so serious that it made me laugh. Do I know my ABC's? What a joke! Playing her little mind games, I answered, "No. Never have learned them and never will." Her eyes got larger at my answer and I took delight in her astonishment
"My mommy said that without the ABC's there wouldn't be any written stuff. Did you know that?"
"Your mommy's a pretty smart lady. What's her name?" Her answer was Shantel, and that reminded me of my own Shantel. How different they sounded. Haley's mom is probably nice to her father and comes over to his house every now and then. Not my daughter. Lord forbid the thought.
She walked back over to the old box and picked up a picture. She turned her head towards me, and gave me a questioning look.
"Who's in these pictures?"
That innocent question made many memories surface. The memories that somehow I had almost buried deep within myself. It's easier to believe the bad memories than to keep thinking about the good ones. For some reason, I wanted to remember with Haley and let her into my world.
Without speaking, I guided her to my old couch, and directed her to sit down. I picked the box up, sat down and took a deep breath. Slowly, over the next hour, I painted a picture for her. A picture filled with laughter, love, and deeply rooted family ties. My face transformed from a deeply troubled man, to a deeply happy man. For that one hour, I felt like I did twenty years ago. I felt whole again. My wife was with me again, Beth was a sweet little girl, and Shantel loved me again.
"Where's the potty room?" She asked, cutting off my thoughts curtly. My thoughts must have been drifting off for more than a second. Getting back to Haley, I told her where the lavatory was, then sat back on the old couch to rest my old and tired bones. Being with a kid takes a lot out of you, especially one who asks so many questions.
She came back shortly, but I didn't hear the toilet flush.
"Haley, did you flush the toilet?" I asked innocently. Obviously, I knew that she hadn't, but wanted to hear her response.
"Nope. I'll go do it now." she rushed away, more embarrassed than I probably knew. I felt like I did twenty years ago: making sure that Robin and Shantel flushed after they were done. It's funny how much Haley reminds me of Shantel
It was only 2:00 p.m., and I didn't want to bore Haley. I needed a good plan and fast. I tried to remember what I used to do with Shantel and Beth. My brain storm finally hit like lightening. The park! There's one right down the street. What a perfect way to entertain a little girl. I was so pleased with myself for thinking of such a great plan that I wanted to get moving.
I explained to Haley where we were going as I slipped her coat on her. With every button I did, my excitement grew. Who knew an old man like me could get excited?
Once outside, I was glad that Haley had her coat on. The November wind was chilly, but I didn't think that it was too cold to have some good old fashioned fun. The brisk walk to the park tired me out, but I didn't let it show. I wanted Haley to have a good time, and I didn't want to do anything to ruin that for her.
Her greatest delight was found on the swings.
"Higher! Higher!" Haley screamed in delight. She couldn't get enough of me pushing her. But, me, on the other hand, had had quite enough. I loved to make her happy, but being old has its disadvantages. Too much more of these kind of excursions could be the end of me.
I finally convinced her to do something else. The jungle gym she could do by herself. I was thankful. I sat back and just watched, transfixed by her childish delight.
A hour later, she was ready to go. I was thankful, but, I too, had had fun, so the two balanced out each other. On the way home, we were laughing and happy. I hadn't had so much fun in a long time.
By the time I had finally gotten Haley unbundled and myself uncovered, I realized how hungry I was. Time to eat. Haley also complained that she, too, was hungry, so I set my mind to think. Let's go fast and easy. Pizza. Hey, kids like pizza, and, although I'm not proud to admit it, so do I. I got the phone book out and found the number for a pizza place that delivered. Having done that, I walked to the phone. Pepperoni pizza, I thought to myself. That's the best kind.
"Honey?" the women called from the closet. "Where'd you say Haley was?"
"I dropped her off at a birthday party. She got invited at the last moment. I hope you don't mind that I let her go without consulting you first. She was just really excited to go, so I let her," he answered, his voice tense.
"That's fine, darling. Maybe now, tonight, we can go and see that movie we've been dying to see. Then, tomorrow, we'll all go on a picnic and feed the ducks at the park. You know how Haley loves ducks. How does that sound? We'll even invite Beth to tag along. It'll be fun! What do you think?"
He fidgeted nervously with his tie. His actions showed, even more profoundly through the mirror he was standing by.
"Well, actually, I hadn't planned on picking Haley up until noon, but sooner sounds O.K. You know, we could make this a family event and invite your father along. Haley and I have never met him before, and I'm kind of curious."
"No," she ground out the word out. "You know how I don't want to be around him, so please don't bring him up again. Besides, I'll not have Haley subjected to such behavior. I had to go through it, but I'll make sure Haley never will. Can we please change the subject now?" She grabbed the nearest washrag and began to pat her face with it, trying to calm down.
"OK." he said quickly. "Then, tomorrow, it'll be just you, me, Haley and Beth. It'll be fun. How about if we go to the park right by Cedar Lane? It has the best ducks in the state. I'll go and call Beth. You get dressed, and we'll go to that movie tonight, OK?"
He rushed off, and called Beth. After confirming his plan with her, and knowing that she'd go, he collapsed on the nearest chair and prayed that his plan would work, that he'd walk away with Shantel not hating him, and that she would understand what he comes was doing.
* * *
"Is this 198 Cedar Lane? I've got pizza for that address." the pizza man, Sid, said.
"Of course, young man. This is Cedar Lane. Here's the twenty, keep the change."
The pizza man snatched the $20 greedily and rushed off. Talk about stiff people, Sid thought to himself I get a $.05 tip, and they get to eat pizza.
I shut the door, not wanting to let the cold air in. The night had turned very cold, and it looked nasty out there.
Dinner was a success. Haley loved it. I had to admit that I found it most refreshing. There's nothing like hot cheesy pizza on a cold night like tonight. But as dinner progressed, I began to get worried that Haley's parents were out there somewhere, worrying over her. That would be really terrible. I decided to look in the phonebook for any West's. Calling the police would be totally useless because of the fact that they have grown so lazy. A little while ago, I looked in a cop car and there were donuts molding on the dash. Everywhere I looked in the car, all I could see were donuts. I thought I was at a bakery.
I finished loading the dishwasher and wiped down the kitchen counters. I keep a clean place. I can't stand to see dirt floating any where in my kitchen.
"Haley!" I called. My voice echoed through the house. I had left her watching my goldfish in the aquarium. I thought it might amuse her for a while. The whole house was deathly silent. That was not a good sign. I called out again and again as I limped through the house trying to find her. I looked in every cubby hole, under every bed, but there was no sign of her anywhere. I only left her for 15 minutes at the most. Where could she have gone?
I needed to think. I sat down to get my thoughts together. I was getting more exhausted by the minute, but I wouldn't let it deter me. I needed to find her. And fast! I barely managed to get off the couch, but once off, I managed to walk to the door. Opening it, I leaned out, trying to see if I could see her. The wind tore at my face, and the cold wind made me realize that if she were outside, she wouldn't be able to stay out there very long. But the street was empty. The only movement were the leaves that were blowing around on the ground. I called out her name a couple of times, but heard no response.
The only thing left to do was to drive around and look for her. Maybe she's in sight. I need to find her before someone else does.
As I reached for my keys, the phone shrilled through the air. What timing! The phone hardly ever rings, but now, of all times. If that's some kind of salesperson, I'm just going to hang up on them. Who cares what they're selling!
"Yea?" I answered.
"Is this Garvey Romalotti?" a deep voice asked.
"Well, yes it is. But if you're some kind of salesperson, hold your breath. I'm in a hurry, and I can't dally."
"No. I'm not a salesperson. Actually, I'm Miles West." At my prolonged silence, he added, "You know, your daughter Shantel's husband." Now, I remembered. I'd forgotten the guy's name.
"Of course, I know who you are. What kind of father-in -law do you think I am? So, what's on your mind?" That was a close call. it could have been really embarrassing.
"Well, sir, so you have a little girl there named Haley? You know, your granddaughter?"
"My what?" I shouted at the phone. Haley couldn't be my granddaughter. Shantel would never let me see her. Well, Haley's last name is West, and she did say her mother was Shantel. Oh, my gosh. I felt so stupid. I had just lost a little girl, I just lost my granddaughter.
"I hope you didn't mind me just dropping her off like that. I just figured it would be better if you two just met by yourselves. I knew that Shantel wouldn't approve of Haley just visiting you, so I told her that Haley was going to a birthday party. She has no clue where Haley is. I just think it's unfair to never let you two meet. No matter how obnoxious you are. So, how's it going between you guys?"
His words just cut right through me. My granddaughter? What in the world was I going to tell Miles?
"Miles, I have to tell you something. It's pretty bad news. Haley and I were doing pretty good. Of course, I didn't really know who she was. About 10 minutes ago, I went out to go and see what she was doing, and I couldn't find her. I looked everywhere in the house for her. I was just about to go out and drive around to look for her when you called. I just left her for ten minutes to clean the kitchen, and wham, she's gone." I blurted out the words. I was feeling worse and worse by the second. Miles must think that I am a totally irresponsible person.
"What!" Miles exclaimed. "She's lost somewhere out in the dark?"
"I'm assuming she's outside. There's not anyone else around here, so I don't know where she could have gone. I'm going to drive around and look for her."
"Do that." Miles commanded. "Call me if you can't find her in twenty minutes. If you can't, I'll have to tell Shantel what happened. We'll go and look for her too. Let's just hope that it doesn't come to that. I want Haley nice and safe again."
I could tell by the strain in Mile's voice that this was killing him. I needed to find Haley fast!
I hung up with Miles and hobbled out to the car. I started it quickly, but it was so cold, it took about five minutes to warm up. Curse this fall weather, anyway.
I drove down every street in my neighborhood, but there was no sign of Haley anywhere. My twenty minutes were close to running out, so I drove back home.
When I got back, I dialed the number Miles had given me. He answered quickly.
"Miles, I can't find her anywhere. I searched through the whole neighborhood and couldn't find her. I don't know where to look anymore. What should I do?"
Miles let out a long sigh. "I'm going to have to tell Shantel what happened, and then we'll drive right over there. Keep looking until we get there."
"I feel really bad about what happened. You trusted me with her, and I failed. Maybe Shantel was right in never letting me see her. I mean, I was with her for just one day, and look what happened." I felt so bad I didn't know what to do, or how I could make things better.
"No, don't worry about anything. It's not your fault. Haley just likes to run off every now and then. I'd say she just picked the worst time to do it. Keep looking for her. That's the only thing left to do."
We hung up a short time later. I leaned against the wall and took a deep breath. I felt tired, yet I knew I needed to keep looking everywhere I could for Haley. I had to find her. Grabbing my cane, I pushed towards the door once more. I was out of breath, but kept going until I climbed the steps. Taking another deep breath, I limped down the road, screaming Haley's name. Still no one answered the call, and I needed to sit down on the curb. I had a weak heart and was not used to that kind of exertion. Suddenly, I felt really tired. Maybe after a short rest, Then I'll go and look for Haley some more. Right now, I need to rest. I lied down on the sidewalk and closed my eyes. Slowly, my mind relaxed.
"What do you mean, Haley's lost!?" Shantel screamed. "You told me that she was at a birthday party. You lied to me! How could you do such a thing? You know how I feel about my father. I trusted you. I can't believe you would do this!" She looked so hurt and angry that Miles reached down to try to comfort her.
"No. Don't touch me. Just get the car keys. We will talk later about this. Right now, all I want to do is find Haley. That's all that's important to me. When I see my father again, I'm going to tell him what I think of him losing a five year old child. Could he be more irresponsible?" She rushed away, back straight and forbidding. Miles knew that Shantel was angry at him, but her anger was more aimed at her father. He felt so sorry for Garvey whenever Shantel got a hold of him.
On the long, silent ride over, nothing was said between the couple. She sat stiff and unrelenting, and he sat ashamed and worried. The car was a couple of blocks from her father's house when Shantel screamed out.
"Stop, Miles! There's someone on the side of the road. Common, it could be Haley. Hurry! Pull over."
The car came to a abrupt stop, and Shantel jumped out.
Before Miles even had a chance to turn off the ignition, Shantel began to scream again.
"Oh, my God! It's Dad." Miles looked over his right and saw a man lying on the sidewalk. Shantel was stooped above him, gently shaking him, trying to get him to open his eyes.
"He's going to die," She said, then fainted.
Miles was shaking Shantel. Wake up, he thought to himself. Wake up. Finally, she started to move.
"Shantel, you've got to help. Pull yourself together."
"I'm OK Miles. I guess it just got to me. I'm going to get him warm. You call for an ambulance. Hurry! There's not much time."
Shantel tried to pull herself together. She had to be brave. Her dad's face seemed to get paler, and his temperature seemed to drop lower and lower. She took off her coat and gently put it around him. Leaving his side for a minute, she ran to the car and grabbed the picnic blanket from the back seat. She put that over him, too, and she just willed him to keep warm. He had to survive. What was he doing out here in that cold weather? What if he died before she had a chance to say anything to him? She didn't know how she'd handle it.
Miles came running back down the street.
"I called from your Dad's house. Help is on the way. Is he any better?"
I focused on Miles. Haley, where is she? Where is she? I had to know that she was OK.
"Haley..." I managed to whisper. Blackness came over me again, and I gave in to it.
* * *
"He must have really been worried about Haley, Miles. He looked so scared. What if I was wrong about him? I feel so horrible." Shantel started to shake and Miles knew that the strain of Haley being gone and now her father was too much. But he didn't have time to do anything because the ambulance was racing towards them.
The paramedics examined Garvey. Then, they put him on the gurney and raced away to the hospital.
* * *
"Daddy, can you open your eyes? For me, please?"
I heard Beth's voice somewhere in the distance. She kept pleading me. Finally, I opened my eyes.
Everyone was around me. Robin, Shantel, Haley, and some guy that I assumed was Miles. From the beeping of machines and nurses scurrying around, I sensed that I was in a hospital.
"Haley," I whispered. "Are you OK? I was so worried. I thought I had lost you somewhere." Haley looked at me with tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry I runned from your house and that's why you're sick. I didn't mean to runned away. I just wanted to look at the ducky that was outside. When it ran from me, I chased it, and got losted. But a really nice policeman saw me and saved me." Her eyes suddenly lit up. "And he gave me yummy donuts."
I started to laugh, but it made my chest hurt. Shantel came up to me and asked if I was OK. I told her that I was fine. She didn't move, so I waited to see if she was going to say something. Finally she did.
"I want to talk to daddy alone. OK, everyone?" Everyone quickly filed out and I was left alone with Shantel. She grasped my hand and looked me deeply into the eyes.
"Dad, when I saw you lying there on the sidewalk, something happened. All of the bitterness that I had felt wasn't important. I realized that I had let the past stand in the way of the future. It was wrong of me to keep you and Haley apart. You both needed to spend time together and I kept her away out of selfish reasons. Can you ever forgive me?"
"Shantel, you have to know that I don't' blame you for anything. I was wrong a lot of times in raising you. But I like to think that you turned out all right even though I made some dumb decisions. You know, I really care for Haley."
"Now," I said firmly. "Let me talk to you and Beth please. Tell her to come in. I really need to say something to the both of you."
Shantel went to the door and Beth came right. I just looked at both of them. My pride and joy. I realized how much I had missed when I was bitter and foolish.
"I want you both to know that you two are the most important people in my life. You two were the ones who kept me going after your mother died. you have both turned out so good and I couldn't be more proud." My energy was going. I needed to hurry. "Today, I realized that the decisions that I made in the past were ones just based on what was supposed to happen. I never followed my heart, because I was afraid. Afraid that my heart wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. It's hard to believe that your instincts can actually prove to be good. I needed to know where exactly my life was always headed. I didn't believe in myself. But you two need to. You need to believe that everything happens for a reason, and by denying that belief, you only end up hurting in the end. Remember what you said, Beth? You were wrong. I'm not kicking and screaming. And this time I'm not going to deny fate. This time I'm going to follow my heart. Finally, I'll be with your mom again. I love you both."
back to the Short Story Page.Reunion on Cedar Lane, 16 May 1997