story-telling series: hardly strangers, part 5

PART FIVE – ANNA. “So you’re Mr. Florence’s grandson?” Amy asked Tristan, who was anxiously pacing back and forth in the waiting room.

“Yes,” he said. “Could you tell me again how my grandfather ended up in your car?”

Amy explained, “He comes to the coffee shop every day, so I knew who he was. Today, he stayed much longer than he normally does, and he was there until I closed shop. He had fallen asleep. My co-worker told me to wake up him and get him to go home, but I was worried about him, for some reason. I convinced him to let me give him a ride.” She took a sharp breath and said, “If I hadn’t insisted on driving him home…”

“You were being nice,” Tristan interrupted. “This is not your fault. My dad called me to pick him up from the coffee shop today, but I was…preoccupied,” he said, casting a glance at Jane and Peter still arguing across the room. “I’m the one who’s going to get it when my dad arrives,” he said, almost to himself. Then he looked at Amy and said, “That’s a lot of trouble to go through for a customer. I know Gramps comes in everyday for coffee at your shop, but this can’t be a part of your job description.” Then he added quickly, “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. I guess it’s just surprising for someone to care so much about their customers.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do this for just any old customer. It’s just that I see Mr. Florence at the shop everyday, and I guess that’s created a kind of vested interest,” she said. “Besides, he’s one of my most faithful customers. I couldn’t afford for anything to happen to him, since I own the coffee shop and everything,” she said with a little smile.

“You own the coffee shop? But you’re so…” Tristan trailed off.

“Young?” Amy guessed. “Yeah, the coffee shop was sort of…an inheritance. My grandfather owned it back in the 40’s. He passed away about two years ago when I graduated from business school. My dad didn’t want it, so I took it over. I figured you could do worse than owning your own coffee shop straight out of college.” She beamed, “I think it’s doing pretty well, too.”

A doctor walked up to Tristan. “Are you Mr. Florence’s grandson?” he asked. Tristan nodded. “He’s still recovering and is under a lot of medication, but he’s awake. You can go in and see him now.”

Tristan let out a huge sigh of relief.

“Oh, and your father is here, too. He’s in the room with your grandfather,” the doctor added. He shot Tristan a meaningful look, and then walked away.

————————————

Tom Florence was an intimidating man, and it was easy to see why Tristan would be anxious about confronting him. Yet, Amy felt nothing but warmth and kindness when he introduced himself to her.

“Amy, thank you for being so kind to my father,” he said with sincerity. “I usually come to pick him up in the afternoons, but I got caught up in something today. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who got caught up in other things.” He shot a reproachful look at Tristan, yet there was something in his eyes that seemed pained. Even remorseful.

“It wasn’t any trouble at all. I would have felt much better knowing that he got home safely,” Amy replied. “Although, by the looks of things, it appears that my offer did him more harm than good.”

“Don’t be silly,” Tom said with a glimmer in his eye. “This man has lived through a lot. He’s a war veteran. What’s a little three-car collision compared to that?” he said, smiling at Amy.

In his bed, Mr. Florence stirred. His eyes fluttered open and Tom rushed to hold his hand. “Dad? Dad, you have some visitors,” he said, wrapping both his hands around his father’s fingers.

“Hi, Gramps,” Tristan said quietly. His voice was filled with pain. “I’m so sorry,” he said, gently placing his hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. “I was supposed to come for you, but I missed Dad’s call. I’m so sorry,” he continued. In the presence of his ailing grandfather, the concerns of the afternoon suddenly became inconsequential to Tristan. He and Jane would handle their relationship later. What mattered most to him at that moment was to know that his grandfather would be okay.

Tom looked up at his son and knew that there was no need for him to be corrected. The concern and guilt was written all over Tristan’s face, and all Tom could do was stand up and put an arm around his son’s weary shoulders. Then he turned his attention back to his father and said, “Look, Dad, you have another visitor here. You might remember Amy,” he said, attempting to lighten the mood with his voice. Amy stepped forward to get a better look at Paul.

“Hi, Mr. Florence, remember me?” she said quietly. She was relieved to see Paul’s eyes open and alert, and she felt a small part of her worry get lifted off of her shoulders.

Then, without warning, Paul’s eyes lit up with recognition. “Anna!” he exclaimed.

“No, Dad, her name is Amy,” Tom corrected him gently.

“Anna! Anna!” Paul exclaimed again. This time, he lifted his shaky fingers towards Amy, as if reaching for her.

“I’m sorry, Amy, this must be the medication talking. Anna was a woman my father used to know back when he was a young man. Actually, she’s the reason my father would come into your coffee shop everyday. He says she was his first love,” he explained, taking Paul’s shaking hand in his, trying to calm him.

“Oh, that’s alright. It’s surprising he seems to recognize me at all. Anna is actually my grandmother’s name —” Amy started, and then stopped dead in mid-sentence. “I’m sorry, how did you say he knew this woman…Anna?” she asked tenuously.

Tom was a bit surprised by her reaction, but went on to explain, “They met in 1942 at the coffee shop where you work now. My father’s family owned a bakery and they would deliver pastries to the coffee shop every morning. One day, he came to the coffee shop and saw her there, and according to him, he fell in love with her the minute he laid eyes on her. He finally got up the nerve to speak with her, but he discovered that she was already engaged to be married to another man who came from a wealthy family. Still, in spite of his better judgment, he delivered the pastries to the coffee shop every day, and everyday she would be there. They would talk to each other little by little each day, until after a while they had grown so fond of one another that she would wait for him at the coffee shop every morning, just so they could talk for a few moments. It was all they needed.

Then, he was drafted to go to the war. When the war was over, he came back, and the whole city had changed. He found the old coffee shop but realized that the owners were different. His heart was broken, so he moved on. He met my mother, they had a family, he lived his life,” he said. “But when my mother passed away almost ten years ago, he started coming back to the coffee shop. He must have known Anna was no longer going to be there, but I think in his mind he was trying to make up for lost time…the times he wished he could’ve been there to continue their conversations, to express his love for this woman.” He looked at his father, quiet and still on the hospital bed. “He never got to tell her how much he loved her. By the time he got back from the war, it was too late. She was gone.”

Amy stood frozen in her tracks. Shocked, she said to herself, “For two years, I saw Mr. Florence walk in and out of the shop…I had no idea that it was him all along.” She looked at Tom, whose eyes were fixed on her. “Anna – Paul’s Anna – was my grandmother.”

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