The phone display was flashing Charlie’s number. Anticipating yet another call regarding our planned road trip, I answered, “All packed and ready to go, Charlie.” There was silence at the other end.
“Hello, Evan. It’s Abbey Redman.”
“Hi, Abbey. What’s up? Is that old grizzly misbehaving again?”
“No, Evan,” her voice faltered. “No. Can you come over right away?”
“What’s wrong, Abbey? Is Charlie okay?”
“Please, just come straight to Charlie’s room. I’ll be waiting for you.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll be right over.”
“Please, hurry, Evan.”
I dropped everything, breaking the speed limit to get to the Beachwood. Abbey had sounded almost panicked. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find but sensed it wouldn’t be good.
When I walked through the front doors, Abbey was waiting in the main hall. She turned and motioned for me to follow her. She looked flustered, her blue eyes rimmed in red like she had been crying. We were almost to Charlie’s room before I caught up to her.
I took her arm. “Abbey, what the—?”
She put her finger to my lips. She looked at me. Tears welled up. Charlie’s door was open, and we entered. He was lying on the bed, fully dressed in a suit, shirt, and tie.
“That’s how I found him,” she whispered. “I’m not supposed to do this, but he wanted me to. There was a note in my mail slot. It said, ‘Angel, call Evan. Have him come over before you come in to wake me.’ Of course, I ignored that and checked on him. Just look at him all decked out.”
I held her close, staring at my friend in disbelief, not able to hold back the tears.
Abbey composed herself. “I called it in and then called you immediately. He was holding this. Your name is on it.”
She handed me a zippered leather satchel with an envelope taped to the front of it. It was labeled in bold letters For Evan Jackson Only. Abbey kissed me on the cheek, then turned and walked out, closing the door behind her.
I had to admit Charlie looked at peace with the world. His hands were at his side with what seemed to be a smile on his lips. I thought that unusual. At this stage, most people didn’t look like that, not until after the funeral home had done their job. I sat beside him, opened the envelope and began to read his note.
Evan, my friend, take this satchel and put it in your car. Don’t let anyone else see its contents.
Then, as if he knew I would delay, he had written in bold letters, Do it now, Evan. Then, you can grieve.
I sighed, What are you up to, Charlie? I quickly took the satchel out to the car, placing the crumpled note in my pocket. Crap . . . Another trip to Memphis I didn’t make. I opened the rear door and placed the satchel inside, then returned quickly to the room.
Abbey was back with her hand on Charlie’s. “The coroner will be here any minute.”
Soon, there was a flurry of activity around us.
I turned to the woman Charlie called his angel. “Thanks, Abbey. Thanks for everything.”
After we said our goodbyes, they took Charlie away. Abbey clung to my arm, “They say you shouldn’t get too close to the residents, but sometimes you can’t help it. He had become what I considered a close friend.”
“I understand that, Abbey. I’ll miss our Sunday jaunts together.”
She looked into my eyes. “I know you two were planning something. Now, can you tell me what it was?”
“I will, Abbey, later.”
At that point, Shelley, the manager of the facility, walked in.
“Hi, Evan. I’m sorry for your loss. You were about the closest thing Charlie had to a family.”
“Well, it was a two-way street. Did he leave any instructions, I mean for a funeral?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, he did, just two days ago, in this letter. It was in my mail slot, almost as if he knew what was going to happen. I’ve seen that before with residents. His requests are different, to say the least, but I believe we can accommodate them.” She handed the letter to me. “It’s typical Charlie,” she said, smiling.
My Last Wishes
Those are my wishes.
Regards from wherever the hell I am.
“Are you okay with this, Evan?”
“Absolutely, and, I won’t charge to play. Use my fee to buy extras for the party.”
We all smiled at Charlie’s arrangements. Three days later, we had the party where I performed two of Charlie’s favorite songs; I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams and of course Pilgrimage to Memphis. Charlie had told me, more than once, “You play that song at my funeral.”
Of course, Abbey was there. As I played Charlie’s favorites, she smiled despite her tears. Abbey asked for a ride home afterward. When I walked her to her door, she kissed me. Hesitant at first but then a long, loving kiss.
“Thank you, Evan, for being in Charlie’s life. He so looked forward to those Sunday rides,” she smiled. “Do you remember what Charlie said to me that first day we met in the hall?”
“I sure do.”
“Well, what do you think? Should we get together? Maybe that date you talked about but haven’t acted on?”
“Oh, I think so, Abbey. I should ask you out on an official date, especially after that kiss. Why don’t I pick you up for breakfast tomorrow?”
She pouted. “That’s your idea of a date?”
“No, but we could use that time to plan one. Heck, I’m willing to stay tonight, so I don’t miss my alarm.”
“Nice try, buddy. Pick me up at 8:30 sharp.” She gave me another quick kiss, and I was left standing on the stoop looking forward to breakfast.
The following morning, we talked over a long meal. Abbey had a few more surprises about Charlie.
“You know, Evan, a few months ago, Charlie gave me some money. I had told him once how I was saving up to go back to school and fulfill my dream of becoming a doctor. Somehow, he found out where I did my banking and made an anonymous deposit. He never admitted it, but I’m sure it was him. It was the exact amount I had told him I was trying to save. It was a lot of money, Evan. I confronted him, but he never confessed.”
“That wouldn’t surprise me, Abbey. He was a kind man with a gruff exterior. Definitely a big heart underneath it all. Did he ever tell you about the girl he had left behind?”
“Not much. It was an emotional time for Charlie. He said her name was Angie. Told me she was the woman he should have married. While in Korea he broke off their relationship, and although he tried to reconcile, she had refused. Shortly after, he left his life in Memphis behind him and headed north. As you probably know, he never married.”
She turned towards the window, holding back the tears as she thought about our old friend. I moved over to her side and took her hand in mine.
She patted my hand. “Thanks, Evan. You have been a good friend to both Charlie and me. We might have to postpone that date. I’ll be leaving next week for medical school. I was accepted and thanks to Charlie. I can attend.”
I took her hand. “Abbey, you follow that dream. It would make Charlie very happy knowing you did that. I’ll be leaving as well. I’m making a trip to Memphis. Remember you asked what the two of us were planning? Well, Charlie and I were going to make a pilgrimage to Memphis.”
She sat back, smiling. “I knew that you two rascals were up to something. A trip to Memphis . . . hmm. Are you still taking Charlie with you?”
“That’s what he wanted. So, yes. I’m going to pick up his ashes and carry on with our mission. I was thinking maybe when I get back we could . . . I mean . . . I want to see you again.”
“We should do that, Evan. I can’t help but think it’s in the cards. That is if you can put up with a frazzled would-be doctor and her studies.”
“Abbey, you’re off today, aren’t you? Let’s keep that date.”
Although she had lots to do she agreed, and I picked her up that evening. We had an enjoyable time. I didn’t know it then, but it would be the last date I would have with Abbey for several years. I drove home that evening…
singing the song I wrote, that Charlie loved.
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