70. Farewell Gift

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Peter had no intention of finding his Aunt Bessie. He had no intention of shaking any more hands, making small talk, or donning a facade of forced cordiality. It all seemed so small and pointless. And after the bitter exchange with his father, his resolve to carry out those pleasantries had faded.

Peter stepped out into the cool of the night, the full moon hanging low in the night sky. He leaned back against the front of the house and watched the shadow of a fledgling elm stretch across the pavement ahead. A heartbeat later, that long shadow faded under the glow of a pair of headlamps from a black automobile straining through the nighttime fog.

With a sigh, Peter readied himself for another interaction. He should have known better than to stand out front. But the backyard was filled with people, hovering around the picnic tables that his mother had covered with laced tablecloths and extravagant foods. Fillet mignon. Roast squab. Sirloin of beef. Salmon with mousseline sauce. She had also set up fifty ornate lanterns along the outskirts of the yard so guests could remain outside even after sunset.

So much waste. So many dollars spent that could have gone to feed the poor. Clothed the homeless. Made a real difference in the lives of human beings.

Peter promised himself that when he was done fighting for freedom on European soil, he would come home and do everything that he could to tackle the injustices here in America. He had been idle far too long. When he came home, Peter would continue to paint. He would continue to do what he loved. But he would work hard. He would work so much harder than he ever had, and he was going to make a real living at it. He would build a life for himself. He would move away from his mother and father, and with every extra scrap of coin that he earned, he would give to the needy of his community, so many of whom were black and could hardly be blamed for the predicament that they found themselves in.

Peter watched as the shiny Buick pulled up to the curb in front of the house and joined the multitude of cars that were already parked in a neat line along the edge of the road. It appeared that a space had been saved directly in front of the house just for this particular vehicle. The headlights dimmed and shut off and the ambling frame of Richard Bell exited the vehicle.

"Peter! How are you my boy?" Richard called out in a jovial greeting.

Peter pushed a smile across his lips as his grandfather approached.

"I'm well. And how are you?"

"I'm fine," Richard answered. "It's you that doesn't look so good. Why are you wearing that glum face under that smile?"

Peter ignored his grandfather's question, changing the subject instead.

"I'm surprised to see you here tonight," Peter said.

"You're my only grandson," Richard said. "You make an old man damn proud! Going off to defend your country. Why in the world wouldn't I come to your farewell party?"

"Father said the two of you had an argument."

"No." Richard shut his eyes for a moment and shook his head. "We had a disagreement."

"Seems like the two of you have been disagreeing a lot lately."

A wistful smile played on Richard's lips. "You know, your father and I don't always see everything the same way. Lately, it's been about the Pioneers. But we're family. We always come around in the end."

"You don't like Henry Louis, do you?" Peter asked.

Richard gave a tight smile. He was holding a white rectangular box in his right hand, and he tapped it lightly against his thigh as he stared out into the distance. "Right now, I don't care to think about Henry Louis." He extended the white box to Peter.

"Here you are, boy. A farewell gift from your grandfather."

Peter took the gift and studied it. It was a thin box, and he wondered if it contained cigars. But surely his grandfather knew he didn't smoke.

"You didn't have to get me anything," Peter said.

Richard raised a hand. "Enough of that. Of course I got you something. Just go on and open it."

Peter removed the lid. "A stationary set!" The box contained a pad of plain white paper, envelopes, and a fountain pen. Simple. Frugal. Perfect.

"This is nice," Peter said. "Thank you."

Richard nodded, his expression serious. "During my days of service, a man was lucky if he could find a scrap of paper and a pencil. But now that my own grandson is about to go off to the other side of the ocean for who knows how long, well, I just want to make sure you have everything that you need, right on hand, to keep in touch with your family back home."

"I'll write every chance I get," Peter said.

"You do that," Richard said. "Don't just go writing to me, either. Take it from someone who's been there, writing letters home helps you to remember what you're fighting for. It keeps your spirits high and your head in the right place."

"I understand," Peter said. "I promise to write."

"Your father too."

"S-Sure," Peter said, stammering. "He's my father. Of course, I'll write to him."

"He'll want to hear from you," Richard said, insisting. "He'll enjoy it if you write to him every week. I know that he'll be worried about you the whole time you're gone."

Peter forged another smile. He had already lost track of how many counterfeit smiles he'd had to produce over the course of the evening. He knew that he should believe what his grandfather was saying. But he wasn't convinced that his father cared to hear from him every week. And he wasn't sure that he really wanted to write every week.

On the outside, Peter was smiling. But on the inside, he was breaking apart.

The reality of having to go to fight overseas was finally hitting him.


Author's Note

Despite being away at war, Peter will play a huge role that will determine Henry's fate and as well as the fate of Hester.

Actually, many seemingly unique events will come together and impact so many people in this story. It's really quite humbling.

Also I have some LATE BREAKING NEWS: Remember the countdown to Chapter 75? Well, I just combined two chapters. So the countdown is now to Chapter 74. We're so close!

Talk to you soon. ;)

Thanks,

Tom

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