Thomas put the rest of Pops’ clothes into the closet, returning the hamper to the foot of the bed. The small room was cozy and filled with knickknacks from Pops’ life as well as pictures of all eight of the grandchildren. Thomas put away a couple of magazines before sitting next to the bed.
Pops gave a chuckle. “You never amaze me. I would yell at the top of my lungs to try to get you to put anything away when you were a kid,” Pops said. “Now you can’t stop yourself.” Pops pointed at a picture of Thomas posing with a woman holding onto two young boys who didn’t have a lick of hair out of place. “Dorothy must have put the fear of God into you.”
Thomas leaned back in the chair and when he spoke he took on a conspiratorial tone. “She actually put the fear of Dorothy into me.”
That gave Pops a chuckle. “Well I hated when you would just keep leaving all that crap out, even when I threatened to throw all of it away. It was hard enough after your mother was gone.”
Thomas reached out and gave Pops’ arm a gentle squeeze. “You did good Pops. It just took a while to sink in.”
Pops smiled and nodded his head. “I know. You’re a good man, Thomas. I must have did something good. But I want to know one thing. Was it because of your mom leaving us?”
“Was what about Leslie leaving us?” asked Thomas as he crossed his arms.
“That’s your mother we’re talking about,” Pops said. The silence stretched out a bit. “Look, was you leaving all your crap out about your mom leaving?”
Thomas stood up and walked over to then picture of his family to give it a closer look. “You really waited all these years to ask me that? What difference does it make now?” Thomas asked to the picture.
Pops shrugged his shoulders. “An old man’s prerogative?” Pops broke into his best Jack Nicolson. “Tell me the truth.”
Thomas turned back to Pops. “That was Tom Cruise’s line, not Jack’s. His was…” Thomas switched to his best Jack Nicolson, which wasn’t that good. “You can’t handle the truth.”
“Whatever,” Pops said. “Well? What’s the truth? I can handle it. At least now.”
Thomas stood there silently. Finally he said, “Yeah. I was mad I didn’t understand why Leslie…”
“Mom.” Pops said softly but forcibly.
“Why Mom,” Thomas corrected, “left me behind. I blamed you for so much of the pain I felt. You were there, and she wasn’t. It wasn’t fair, but nothing was then.”
Pops let out the breath he hadn’t known he was holding. “That’s fair. Nothing much more a nine year old would understand.”
“But I did all that stuff up to when I moved out to go to college. It wasn’t till I was explaining it to her,” Thomas pointed back to the picture, “that I realized how much of an idiot I was.” There were tears in Thomas’ eyes. “I still am an idiot. I’ve never said I’m sorry.”
“I always did like that girl.” Pops said. He pointed to the closet and the magazines. “And you have said I’m sorry many times over the years.”
Thomas wiped at his eyes. “I love you, Pops.”
Pops nodded in response and smiled. “Well turnabout is fair play. Your turn. Anything you want to ask?” Pops said.
“Really, anything?” Thomas asked. Pops just gestured him on. “Okay, this is going to sound stupid, but where did you hide the Christmas presents each year?” Pops began to laugh. “No really. I tore that house apart. I looked in the closets, the attic, the basement, Grandma’s, Jake’s place down the street. I never found a single one. I’ve always wanted to know,” Thomas said.
Pops was now in full belly laughter. He finally came out of it long enough to wheeze out, “Are you sure you tore the house apart?”
“Come on. It’s not that funny,” Thomas complained.
“You really want to know?” Pops said as he calmed down a bit more. Thomas was about to complain again, but Pops cut him off. “I put them where your toys should have been.”
“You mean?” Thomas asked.
“Yep, if you had put one blessed thing away you would have found everything. I never hid a single thing. I just tried to put things back to normal the best I could.” Pops said as he began laughing again.
This time Thomas joined him.