story is dedicated to Phillip McDonald and Danny Glass. Both men I
loved dearly and was lucky enough to have them in my life.
The Phone Call
It is two thousand and fifteen and I sit here between two most important dates in my life, May tenth and May twentieth. I sit here on the beach here in Mexico, looking out at the ocean waves crashing on the rocks and the beach, remembering, smiling and crying at the same time.
I recall the first chapter of my novel, The Old Lighthouse, published in December two thousand and seven. It keeps playing in my head. I shake my head thinking how prophetic. The chapter begins with the main character sitting, looking out to the ocean, the waves crashing on the rocks and the beach. He is contemplating and mourning the loss of his friend.
Why does it have to be this way? I pound my right fist into my left palm.
For you to understand, I have to go back to the beginning. It was a time I smiled. It was a time I was happy and when I first fell in love. Not that silly high school kind of love, but the real kind of love, where you know you have me someone with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.
But first, you must realize I did not discover myself fully until I was twenty-eight. Only then did I know who I was and what I was looking for.
It was in nineteen seventy-seven. I was thirty-two. My friend, Larry, wanted me to go with him to the bar. After all, it was a Friday evening and the bars would be crowded and noisy. Something I was just not looking for.
“Oh, come on, ‘T’. We’ll have a great time. It will be fun.” Larry was persistent. “Come on. Come on.”
Needless to say, Larry always had this thing about knowing what buttons to push to get me to do something. “Oh. Okay. Let me get some clothes on.” If I was going to the bar, I at least wanted to look the part. I needed to get in my flannel shirt, jeans, boots and to top it all off, my cowboy hat. I looked pretty good back then. Hey! I was thirty-two. Everyone looks great at thirty-two.
Finally, we were off and me wondering how truly boring the evening was going to be. Actually, it wasn’t going to be that bad, as Larry was a good friend and good company. If on a roll, he could keep you laughing from now till dooms day.
Arriving at the bar we normally frequented, we walked in. The patrons were regulars and were typical working class and businessmen. I felt comfortable there, even in my cowboy attire.
The room was dimly lit, just as most bars are. Walking over to the far wall, I went to the spot I often positioned myself on several occasions, the ‘meat rack’ as it was so lovingly called by everyone. It was a shelf, some four feet from the floor. It came to my upper chest. Remember, I am only five foot six, five eight in my boots. Grin! What can I say? Short people rule! Just remember Napoleon and Attila. Yeah.
Oh. Sorry for the diversion. Yes. The shelf. It was only about a foot wide, just wide enough for you to lean on and place your drink. No chairs or stools. It extended the whole length of the wall and located across from the real bar.
What was that? Why is it called the ‘meat rack’? You know you have made me laugh asking that. I have always wondered if straight bars have such a thing. It is the place guys stand so they can cruise and be cruised. What? Cruised? Damn. I have opened up a can of worms with this story. We gay men use the term ‘cruise’ if we are looking at other men or others are looking at you…checking you out for a possible connection. Got it? Now, back to the story.
As I walked over to the meat rack, Larry called out. “I’ll get us a drink.”
Taking my position and leaning against the shelf, I tried to look as fetching as possible, even though I was not really interested in ‘playing’ that evening. Hey!!! I told you. I was thirty-two and cute.
I looked across the room at the bar, extending virtually the whole length of the far wall. I could see Jeff and John working diligently behind the bar and taking care of all their customers seated there. Great guys and they always remembered what you ordered and knew your drink. They sometimes had it ready before you even got to the bar, as they saw you when you came in. Now. THAT’S a great bartender. I swear. Gay men make the best bartenders.
Finally, my eyes became accustomed to the lighting and I began to peruse those seated at the bar, starting from left to right. Slowly, I moved my eyes to the right. About three quarters the way to the right, I saw him.
He was seated, turned away from the bar, leaning back against it, his elbows back on the bar. Sneakers, jeans, cowboy hat tilted back on his head of black wavy hair and a flannel shirt, opened all the way down to his belt line, exposing his chest, covered with thick black fur. His handsome shaved face still left a five o’clock shadow and he had a smile that no one could say ‘no’ to.
I could not believe my eyes. Who was that? As many times as I had been in this bar before, I had never seen him. Suddenly, I realized I was staring, as he glanced my way and smiled. I was wondering if my tongue was hanging on the floor or was drool running down my face. He gave a short gentle nod, smiled, then turned back to a guy he was chatting with.
Larry returned with the drinks. “Here ya go. Your gin and tonic. Jeff had it ready for you.” He handed me the drink and also took his position against the shelf.
I was so flustered I took the drink and gulped almost half of it.
“Geez. I didn’t know you were so bent on getting plastered.” Larry watched me guzzle the cocktail.
“Oh. Sorry, Larry. Thanks for the drink. It’s just that…” I paused for a moment. “Oh, never mind. Thanks.”
As Larry leaned back, he suddenly jerked. “Wow! There is someone at the bar I want you to meet.”
My mind went whirling wondering who he was going to introduce me to THIS time. I know he meant well, but none of the guys he ever introduced me to were ones I really wanted to know much less date.
He grabbed my arm and started dragging me over to the bar. Strangely, he was heading toward the handsome man I was so taken with earlier. But no. Larry could not know HIM? No. But he kept dragging me. We were heading right in HIS direction. Larry knows HIM? You have to be kidding me. Suddenly, there we were, standing right in front of…HIM.
He looked up at Larry and smiled. “Larry. How are you? Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Hey, Phillip. Doing pretty good. Have someone I want you to meet.” Larry looked my way. “This is my friend, Thornton.”
Phillip turned and looked up at me and smiled.
Have you ever done something in your life that was so embarrassing and outlandish you knew you would remember it forever, even beyond death? Well, guess what? That’s when I did it. And as I did it, I even shocked myself it was so brash and unbelievably outrageous.
I smiled down at Phillip. Then I took my right hand and placed it right in the center of his chest and rubbed it all over saying. “Look at that nice furry chest!”
Was there some crack in the floor tile into which I could escape? Was there some magic way for me to disappear in a puff of smoke? Was it possible to turn back the clock and do this all over again?
But before I could pull my hand away, he grabbed it, his hand on top of mine, holding it firmly against his chest. He looked up at me and smiled, his wonderful hazel eyes twinkling, and spoke softly. “Cold hands. Warm heart.”
Even now, sitting here and remembering, I can see his wonderful face and smile as if it just happened. Pardon me if I pause for a moment in my reverie to wipe the tears running down my face.
I was totally taken, hook, line and sinker. I finally knew what the term ‘falling’ meant when it came to love. Yes. We stood there for some time chatting, but I can only recall bits and pieces of the conversation, as Phillip never let my hand go. I did hear ‘fireman’, ‘lived near by’, and ‘call me’. Phillip looked up at me again and smiled, letting my hand go and Larry and I headed to the door of the bar.
“Larry. Did I tell him I was glad to meet him? Did I say goodbye? Tell me I didn’t rub his chest. Does he think I’m an idiot?” I stammered as we went to the car.
“He wants you to call him. He thinks you are so cool, and brash as hell. No one has ever done that to him before.” Larry chuckled. “I’ll give you his phone number.”
Some three or four months went by before I could get the phone number from Larry and another month to get up the courage to call Phillip.
“Hey, Phillip. This is Thornton. I know you don’t remember me, but I wanted to call and see if you might like to go to dinner sometime.”
“Oh. Yes. I remember you. Yes.” I thought I could hear a chuckle in his voice.
“No. There is no way you can remember me.”
“Yes. You’re the cute man who rubbed my chest at the bar several months ago.”
I could hear my heart pounding thinking about the time and not knowing what to say next. “Ah. Yes. Yes. It’s me. Phillip. I am so embarrassed. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not. I liked it. Shows you have brass ones and don’t mind going out on a damn limb for something you are trying to get or want. Shows spunk and initiative. I like that. I hope you do it again sometime. When we are alone.” He snickered. “I would love to go to dinner. How about this Friday? I’m off work Friday and Saturday.”
And that began a relationship that lasted nearly twenty years.
I could never tell you all the wonderful things he did for me as well as for others and never expected anything in return. But I will tell you of one thing that will give you an idea as to the kind and generous man he was.
They were fighting a fire and one of his firemen buds fell through a floor, ripping off his helmet and protective gear. The guy was severally burned and would be in the hospital for months. Phillip found out he was married and had small children. His wife was coming in to see her husband every day from near Athens, a city east of Atlanta. This was a drive of over an hour, one way.
Phillip thought this ridiculous. His house was a stone’s throw from the hospital so he moved the family into his house where they lived for the entire duration of the hospital stay. And did he ask for or take any compensation for this? No. He said that anyone would have done the same thing if they had the way and means.
Phillip was kind and generous to a fault, but I loved him for it. And yes. I loved him.
I remember the day we were talking when all of a sudden he looked at me. “Thornton. Would you still love me if I got burned in a fire?”
My heart sank, thinking he thought I loved him only for his handsomeness. I immediately leaned forward and looked at him sternly. “Let me tell you. Yes. The package is really nice, but.” I took the index finger of my right hand and pointed at him, holding the tip of my finger right at his right eye and I continued. “But it’s the man in there that I love and that will never change. The nice package is just the icing on the cake and I have never had a more wonderful cake. Now. Remember that.” I knew from that moment on, he would never question the love I had for him again.
It was May then, too, nineteen ninety-six. A Friday. We were doing some work with his sign business that he did on his days off from his fireman job. Phillip was coughing.
“Why don’t you do something about that cough? It sounds terrible.” I scolded him.
“Oh. It’ll go away. It’s not that bad.”
Then came Sunday and he could hardly breath. “Phillip! You need to take care of that damn cough!”
“I’m gong to see my doctor tomorrow.”
And so he did. And his doctor immediately admitted him to the hospital with rampant pneumonia.
I was furious that he waited so long to do something. I was in the middle of making gum paste flowers for two wedding cakes I was to deliver that coming Friday, but went up to see him on Tuesday.
I was only allowed to see him by the permission of his parents. Not being a spouse or family member, gay partners had no visitation or inheritance rights because they were not married. But oh, the times are a changing.
I waved to one of the nurses coming down the hall. “Hey. How are you? I came to see Phillip. I hope he is doing better.”
“Hello, Thornton. He’s resting. He is so tired. And he wouldn’t be able to say much anyway with all the tubes in his mouth.”
“Is he doing better?”
“Yes. But I think he is going to be in here for a while. He has a lot of fluid in his lungs still.”
“Alright. I’ll come up and see him on Friday after I deliver my two wedding cakes.”
Friday, May the tenth, arrived. It was early morning and I was gathering everything to start my deliveries and set ups. It was going to take almost all day and I had to get both of them set up and done by four o’clock. That’s when the phone rang.
“Hello?” I had no idea who would be calling this early.
It was Phillip’s cousin. “Thornton?”
“Yes. Hey, Gale. How’s Phillip doing? Is he coming home soon?”
“Did they say when he would be well enough to leave there?”
“He’s Not.” Her voice was quiet.
“He’s not? I don’t understand.”
“Thornton.” She paused a moment. “Phillip died last night.”
Do you know what it feels like to be hit by a truck or a train? Do you know what it feels like hitting the concrete when you have fallen out of a fifty story building? I have no idea either, but I know it could not be worse than the pain that flashed through my body at that moment. My world shattered and had just ended. I wanted to die.
I dropped the phone and screamed out, crying. I unconsciously picked up the phone and put it back on the cradle, ending the call.
All I could do that day was cry as I delivered the cakes and set them up. I knew I could not disappoint my wonderful brides by not giving them my best work. They deserved to have the best on their wedding day, their special day, their happiest day, even though this was now my saddest and worse. And yes. Those cakes were spectacular. One was a fifteen hundred dollar cake and the other was a twenty-five hundred dollar cake. So you know they were not just some three tiered thing from a grocery store. I never did another one. Every time I saw a wedding cake, it reminded me of the day Phillip died.
The next time I saw him, he was in his coffin. I placed a card and picture and lock of my hair, I had some then, in an envelope and put it in the breast pocket of his suit jacket.
His funeral procession was wonderful with fire engines and police cars and the line of cars was miles long. He was buried that Sunday, May the twelfth. He was forty-eight. It was Mother’s day and my sister’s birthday. She has told me numerous times how she hated that Phillip was buried on her birthday.
For the longest time, I seemed to not be able to get it together. Then my mother told me something that seemed trivial at the time, but has become extremely profound. “Thornton. Remember. You never know what’s around the next corner.”
For two years I tried to appear happy, but every once in a while something would happen or I would hear or see something that brought back a memory and I would come apart.
The girls, who operated the facility where I worked at the time, saw how I was and decided to put the office computer on line so I could do some on line dating. They thought it was way past time for me to start doing something.
“Oh, no. I can’t do that.” I shook my head.
If you recall, on line dating in nineteen ninety-eight was just beginning and there were no pictures and videos. Everything was strictly description. You never knew what a person looked like until you actually met them.
Lisa chimed in. “Why not? He can’t see you and if you don’t like what he writes, you can check out someone else.”
“That’s right.” Jill agreed. “And you just never know.”
You just never know. Again I was hearing my mother’s words of never knowing what was around the next corner.
“It won’t hurt to try.” Lisa stressed again.
“Okay! Okay! I will.” I finally agreed.
And so I began the arduous task of reading umteen profiles. Remember. No pictures. Just descriptions. Finally, I came across one that sounded promising. He was a landscaper, living at home with his mother in Rome, Georgia. He drove into Atlanta everyday to do his work then drove back to Rome every night. And for those of you who have no idea, that trip is just over one hundred miles, one way.
“But he’s thirteen years younger than me.” I commented.
“Who the hell gives a damn!” Lisa yelled out. “At least he’s not some near-do-well with no job.”
“Yeah!” Jill laughed.
We all laughed.
And so it began. His and my conversation started in June of nineteen ninety-eight and we wrote nearly every day. By the end of September, we had a basic feel for one another and decided it was time to meet. Saturday, October tenth, after his workday, since he didn’t have to work on Sunday and after I finished my work as well. The girls told me that they had Sunday covered and to have a good time. They would see me on Monday.
Everyone was ecstatic that I had a date. Me, the girls and several others sat in the front office waiting and looking out the front window. It had to be about six fifteen when we all heard a loud truck engine as if slowing down on the street in front. We all looked out to see a big white pick-up truck pulling an enclosed trailer, coming into the driveway.
Lisa and Jill looked at me and grinned. They spoke in unison. “It’s him!” They grabbed my arm and ushered me toward the door. “Hurry! Go meet him!”
I walked outside and to the top of the drive and watched the truck and trailer pull down the hill to the bottom and stop. I could feel my heart racing.
Do you know what a blind date is? I mean a real blind date. It is one that you know a little something about the person but have no idea what that person looks like. And hoping all the while there might be a little something for conversation so the evening would not be a total bust, and I’m sure he was thinking the same thing.
I have told myself over the years not to look for another Phillip for several reasons. There would never be another Phillip and it would not be fair to the other guy. He had to be himself and I had to accept him for his own merits and not compare him to another.
There I stood with those questions running through my mind. I also began to ask questions about myself. Do I look alright? What is he going to think? Will he like me?
The door of the truck opened. He got out and shut the door. He turned and started walking up the hill toward me.
What can I say? How lucky could I be? Another handsome man was coming up the drive to meet me, in his chucka boots, jeans, flannel shirt over his tee shirt, sleeves rolled half way up to his elbow, and a baseball cap on top of his light brown hair. A mustache and goatee framed his wonderful smile and his blue eyes were like beacons of joy.
He walked up to me, smiled and extended his hand. “Hi. I’m Dan.”
I see his face even now as if it was yesterday.
Now. Mind you. My intentions were for us to go have coffee and chat for a while, then he would go home and I would, too. That WAS the plan. Well. Screw those plans. WE were going to dinner and I knew just the place.
“Hey, Dan. I’m Thornton. I know we were going to get coffee, but since it’s dinnertime, let’s go have dinner. I know of a great place.”
“That sounds great. I would like that.” He smiled at me and I began to melt. And no, it was not the warm October sun in Atlanta.
As we got in my car, I could hear the folks in the office, their muffled cheering and whistling, expressing their approval. Strangely enough, it was comforting to hear them and was glad of their support. Of course, I had to explain it all to Dan later.
The restaurant where we were going was very familiar to me. I liked it because it was quiet, excellent food, great atmosphere and I knew the waiters, bartender, the host and the piano player. I wanted as many aces in my hand and chips in my corner as I could get. It was a place that middle aged and older gay men went to dine. Hey! I was now fifty-three.
When we walked in, George, the host, met us. “Thornton. Good to see you again. It’s been a while.” He turned to Dan. “And who do we have here?”
"George. This is my friend, Dan." I smiled.
George smiled and looked Dan up and down and smiled approvingly. “Hello, Dan. Welcome.” He then turned to me, raising and lowering his eyebrows several times and smiled. “Nice, Thornton. Nice. Would you like to stop at the bar and tell Bill your order before heading to the table?”
“George, that would be great.”
We walked over to the bar. “Hey Bill. How have you been? Wanted to make an order before George takes us to a table.”
“Hey, Thornton. How have you been? Haven’t seen you in ages. Hope all is well.” He looked Dan up and down. “And who do we have here?”
“Bill. This is Dan.”
“Hey, Dan. What can I fix for you?” Bill gave Dan a big smile.
“A White Russian would be great. Nice to meet you, Bill.”
“Coming right up. You all go have a seat. Your drinks will be there shortly. Thornton, I already know what you want.”
George led us through the room to a table on the far side. As we started, Michael looked up from the keyboard of the ebony grand, but he kept playing. “Thornton. How are you? I see you are going to have an interesting night.” He gave a huge grin and wiggled his eyebrows.
“Michael. Good to see you.” I smiled at him.
The moment we began to cross the floor to the table, I noticed something. You know the typical noise you hear in a hushed restaurant? You know…the soft piano music, the low conversations and the tinkling of glasses and forks against china? Well. All of that was gone. The room was silent. I made an effort to see if suddenly the room had no patrons. I looked around at everyone sitting at the tables. All were silent. They had stopped eating and were watching us pass through. It was the look on all their faces. I could see it in their eyes. Their eyes spoke with silent voices all asking the same question. “How much is he paying for that one?”
Finally we were seated. George smiled. “Shawn will be with you shortly. Good to see you, Thornton.” He looked at Dan. “Nice to meet you, Dan, and hope you enjoy it here.” He left the table.
The room finally returned to its normal noise level, but there were those occasional glances over to see us and I could tell there were pertinent conversations about us through the evening.
I must tell you. We sat there all evening eating, drinking and talking till the place was closing.
I smile as it reminded me of the night my friend, Tris, and I met for the first time and talked for hours in a bar, virtually closing it down. Tris was another amazing man and I loved him to death. I must tell his story sometime. I miss him very much. He died in nineteen ninety-eight.
I apologize. I do get side tracked now and then. But the memories keep flooding back. I can’t help it. Sorry. Now back to the dinner.
We had totally monopolized Shawn’s table all night long, so I left a big tip for Shawn for being so patient with us and taking good care of us.
The next stop was to get Dan’s truck and head to the house. We both wanted to continue talking.
It was funny. On the drive to the house that night, I could hear Mom’s words so clearly. “Remember. You never know what’s around the next corner.”
I will tell you. Dan and I formed an immediate bond. We became the ‘bestest’ of friends. But most interesting of all is that our relationship was strictly Platonic. That’s right. So many folks who met us and discovered the fact were somewhat disappointed. But I explained. It worked. We worked well together, like Mutt and Jeff. We always used to say. “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”
I do have to be honest. I almost destroyed our friendship. Yeah. It happened one day I was helping him doing some landscaping. As much as I try, I cannot, for the life of me, remember what it was that got it started, but I do know it was me who was acting like a real prick. I had my headphones on, listening to some damn CD while I was doing whatever I was doing and not paying attention to Dan and what needed to get done. When he and I parted that afternoon, it was rather tense.
Not sure who took the initiative, most likely Dan, as he was an amazing and understand guy. But that night we were on the phone together and me, realizing what an ass I had been, apologized profusely. I cannot tell you how many times I think how it would have been if that phone call had never happened and we went our separate ways. Our roads would have split and I would have lost one of the most important men in my life. I cannot tell you how many times I told Dan I was so sorry for being such a dip shit that day.
I tell you now. People have asked me if I love Dan as much as I do Phillip. My answer is always the same. The cup of love is never empty. It is always full. The love I have for each of them is as strong, but different. They were two different men and our relationships were totally different.
Okay. I apologize again for getting side tracked. But to totally understand, these little side excursions are necessary.
Anyway, after that day the bond between us grew stronger and stronger. There was nothing that could destroy our relationship. Over the next months, I found out how loving and caring a man Dan was. It became obvious to me it was time for Dan to move to Decatur. He had been driving in from Rome, Georgia every day for his work, which was a two hundred mile round trip. And so he did. He had his room and I had mine. This arrangement was perfect. As I said, we worked well together.
It was the summer of two thousand and four when we were watching the national news. A report came on about the ‘Baby Boomers’ and retirement. The report made us both sit up and shake our heads in amazement. We watched the report on the couple that moved to Mexico and their taxes were low and they had an ocean view.
After the report, I grabbed Dan’s arm and dragged him out on the front porch and asked. “Do you see an ocean from here?”
We both laughed and immediately agreed we were going to do the same thing. There was no hesitation for either of us.
Later that year, Dan wanted to move out to San Francisco, as he had several good friends there and he wanted to see the area before heading south of the border. We knew our relationship was firm and the move had no bearing on it what so ever.
I will not get into the details right now, but it is sufficient to say that in two thousand and five we bought a lot on the south west coast of Mexico and planned to retire there when I turned sixty-two in two thousand and seven.
Well. Needless to say, the Fates had other plans, like the crash of the housing market. Yeah. What a bummer. But we were patient and in two thousand and twelve, things started looking up. Dan moved back to the Charlotte, North Carolina area and started looking for a little house there. We would fix it up. He would live there when not in Mexico, but rent it when he was. Dan, being thirteen years younger than me, could not retire yet. When he did move down full time, he would rent the house year round. It would be great extra income.
Here again, that was the plan. The house in Decatur sold in four days in May of two thousand and thirteen. I fully retired last day of June two thousand and thirteen. House in Mexico got started in July. Went down to see progress of the construction in January of two thousand and fourteen, then up to Charlotte to do more on the little house there.
It was May of two thousand and fourteen. Dan and I were talking about the landscaping work that would have to be done around the Mexico house and if he wanted anything shipped down for his room there.
On Tuesday morning, May twentieth, I got up and fixed breakfast. I wanted to see if Dan was hungry, so went into his bedroom to see. I looked over to the bed and saw him. He looked like he was asleep, but I knew immediately something wasn’t right.
I went over to his bed. His hands were folded up on his chest and his head was on his pillow. I sat on the bed and touched his hands and his face. They were cold. My heart broke into a million pieces. I cried out in anguish. “Dan, don’t leave me! No! No! Please don’t leave me!” My Dan was gone. I cried for what seemed forever, then knew I had to do something. I called 911 and told them. I sat on the bed until they came and were ready to take Dan.
I was so afraid they would treat him like a piece of luggage, but I was wrong. They were extremely sensitive and caring as they removed him from his bed and placed him on the cart. I watched as he left the house. I would not see him again until his funeral, in his coffin.
Funerals are such solemn things, but Dan was fun and funny and they needed to know that. I stood and told of the things we did and things he would do to make me laugh. I had them laughing as I told some of his story. That was a good thing.
I helped carry his coffin all the way to the vault and helped slide it into place. I was with him to the very end.
One thing I must tell you. It was a grace I was in Charlotte at the time and found him. If I had been in Mexico and no one knew for days before finding him, that would have killed me.
So now you know the significance of the two dates in May. Oh. I forgot to tell you. I mentioned in the beginning of all this, my first novel. The main character was morning the loss of his friend. The name of his friend was…Daniel.
Yes. It is May of two thousand and fifteen and I am here on the beach in Mexico. The sound of the pounding surf is soothing, but I still cry. Dan should be here with me and he’s not. I look out across the ocean. Maybe if I call my sister, I might feel better.
Reaching in the pocket of my shorts, I grab my cell phone. Finally, the list of contacts appears and I scroll down with my finger and the names roll by. Soon, I see my sister’s name, but the scroll moves a little farther down. There is Dan’s name and number.
Pausing for a moment, I smile through my tears and wonder if someone else has his number by now. My curiosity got the best of me and I touched the phone icon. I could hear the ringing sound.
It rang just a few times when suddenly someone answered. “Hello.”
I admit I was surprised but shook my head and stammered. “Oh. Hello. I’m sorry. I do apologize for intruding, but his number used to belong to someone very special to me and I was curious if the phone company had given it to someone else. I am so sorry.”
“Thornton. Hello.” The voice on the other end sounded happy and strangely familiar. “Thornton. Hello. It’s me. Dan.”
I was so shocked, I could hardly speak, but finally I gathered myself and answered back. “Dan? But how?”
“Who knows. But yeah. It’s me. By the way, Phillip is here, too. You were right. He is such a great guy. He and I get along fantastically. He says to say hello and he sends his love.”
“Dan. This is amazing. I can’t believe it. Wow!” I was happy, but the tears kept running down my face.
“Tris is here and so are a bunch of your other friends. They are all yelling out to say hello. We’re having a barbecue on the beach here today. Thornton, the beach is great here. Wait till you see it. Tris has made the best Bloody Marys, too.”
“Oh, Dan. I miss you so much. I wish you were here.”
“I know. But it just wasn’t meant to be that way.”
“Dan? You know I love you. Did I tell you enough that I love you? Did you know how much I love you?”
“Thornton. Of course I do, as does Phillip and Tris. You treated us all well and made us happy. We were glad we had time with you. And speaking of that. You have several more years left. Go find someone special and show him the love you showed to us. You deserve to love again.”
“Dan.” I chuckled. “I’m almost seventy. I don’t think so.”
“Hey. Remember what your Mom used to tell you. ‘You never know what’s around the next corner.’ Well. You just never know. So don’t let it go by, should someone special come along. I’ll also tell you this. When it is your time to come here, Phillip and I will be right there to take you by the hand. Don’t worry. It’s as easy as falling off a log. Have to tell you. I didn’t feel a thing when it was time for me. My heart just beat slower and slower and slower, then just stopped. There was no pain or hurt. And there was nothing you could have done to prevent it. I wanted you to know that. I have a feeling it is the same way you will be heading in this direction. But not for a while yet.”
“Dan. It is so good to hear you again and talk. Tell everyone I said hello and that I love them.”
“I will. Now, I have to go. It’s about time to eat and everyone is getting ready. They are all yelling out goodbye to you. As is Tris and Phillip.”
“Dan. I miss you. I love you. I love you so much.”
“I know you do and I thank you for that. And you know I love you, too. Now let me get off here and get moving. Take care.”
“Goodbye, Dan. I love you.”
“Goodbye, Thornton. And remember. Love ya, mean it.” He chuckled as there was the sound of a disconnect.
I sat there in total shock, my eyes filled with tears. What had just happened? Was it real? But I heard him clear as a bell. And I heard Phillip in the background. And Tris’ laugh is unmistakable.
After a pause to collect my thoughts, I looked down at the phone again. The list of contacts was still in place and I could see Dan’s name and number clearly.
“I wonder if I could call him back? Just to hear him one more time?” I whispered. I looked at the screen on the phone and pressed the phone icon again. I could hear it ringing again.
It rang several times before there was an answer. “I’m sorry. The number you have dialed is no longer in service.” The automated voice spoke out.
I cleared the phone, put it back in my pocket and looked out to sea. Tears streamed down my face, but I smiled at the gift I had just been given. I knew all was well and I could start to heal and move on.
And I would do just as Dan told me. I will reach out and love again and share love again, proving that love does not die. It goes on forever and ever.
I love you Phillip. I love you Dan. I miss you both so much. Come get me when it’s time.