The bell rang above the screen door that startled William. He had not had customers in days and was dozing behind the dusty counter. It was dark in the store so that he could not make out the customer that walked in or perhaps it was his glasses that needed cleaning. He was a lonely old man, one who spent most of his days sitting behind the counter in the gloomy antique store. Ever since William’s wife died he had lost the beauty in the world around him and his purpose in life.
The footsteps continued up and down the aisles. Gentle, almost thoughtful footsteps of someone not really browsing but searching his mind for words echoed in the silent store. Around the last aisle William’s customer turned to face him. William’s weathered face released an exhausted sigh. No customer, just some kid who was probably trying to give his mother an early heart attack by hiding out in his rundown shop. The kid, maybe five, walked up with his head tilted in thought. There was either a chocolate ice cream stain or a mud stain down his shirt. His hair was plastered to his forehead and clung to his neck from the outside heat.
“Hi.” His voice was soft and warm and he smiled when he reached the counter.
“Where is your mother boy?” William croaked, his voice seemed unwelcoming even to himself.
“At home, making me some peanut butter cookies. Do you have any friends?” The boy’s question surprised William.
“Years ago. Not many people I know these days.”
“Why not? You are old, you should know everybody.”
“Being old does not mean anything, just that I have less time to live.” His voice choked up on the last word and he regretted the words the moment they came out. The boy looked at his sneakers but did not say a word. He put both hands in his pockets and looked to be turning around when he leaned up to the counter and on his tiptoes place a quarter on the counter. William searched the boy’s eyes for a reason but he only found sympathy in the tender perfectly round face of youth.
“It’s for you. You can call me and I’ll be your friend,” spoke the quiet voice, “because I know what it is like to play by yourself.”
“I am not very good at games at my age.” William started. The young boy’s face lit right up not hearing the old man decline.
“Okay, call me when you are ready to play, Grandpa.” The boy started towards the door radiating with delight.
“Hey kid!” William called back. “I think you have mistaken me for someone else. I am not your grandpa.”
The boy turned around and crossed his arms. His eyebrows revealed his confusion.
“But you have a grey beard, glasses, wrinkled skin. Doesn’t that mean you are a grandpa?” William had to laugh and it was a big warm one that shook his stomach as he wiped a tear from his eyes.
“Oh little boy, I never had children and so I am not a grandpa. Just because people are old doesn’t make them grandparents.” His tone turned a bit more serious. “Child, I am but a lonely old man, take some candy for the quarter, they are not antique like the other stuff. Then go on home child, and be a good little boy.”
William attempted a smile but it was so sorrowful that he could not hold it long. The boy was aware of William’s grief, and although he did not know exactly what it was, he could feel it too. William looked down almost wishing this boy would leave. He was youth and freedom, dreams and hopes that were once in William’s life but now were buried like his beloved wife, buried and lost forever.
A small hand touched his worn fingers. The boy had gone around the counter and was looking up at William. He climbed up on the old man’s lap and snuggled into his neck.
“Grandpas are old people that have stories to tell, lessons to teach, laughter to spread, joy to give and love to share. Don’t you have those things?” Dumbfounded and amazed at the boy’s wisdom William just whispered.
“I would be so proud of you if I was your grandfather. You are a remarkable little boy.” The boy looked directly into the man’s face and said.
“I know we will have great stories to share and tear-bringing laughs to laugh.” With that the boy got down and ran to the door.
“See you later, Grandpa. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Boy, before you go I have two questions. What is your name and why did you come into my store today?”
The boy continued to smile and replied. “I’m James. My grandpa’s funeral was yesterday and when he was sick I said that he could not die because I needed a grandpa and he told me if he should die to go to the rundown antique shop next to the general store and there I would find a lonely old man who needs a grandson as much as I would need a grandpa. He said that although the man won’t take his place, there is always room for another grandpa.”
Williams throat felt like is would collapse but his heart seemed to finally beat again.
“Good bye James, your grandfather was a good man. Perhaps I can be but half as good.”
“Grandpa, there is only one rule in being a grandfather. Everyone is different but everyone is the same. So we don’t compare we just enjoy.” With that James ran out of the store and disappeared out of sight. William looked around at his broken shop, stood up, placing the quarter safely into his pocket, put up the closed sign and stepped outside. The air was fresh and warm; it seemed to hug him as he walked into the toy store across the road.
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OMG, this really touched my heart... I just can't stop crying!!! I know how the little boy feels, because I lost two Grandpas in a diffrence of three days! But this, this is THE BEST thing that my eyes haas EVER read!!! *tear tear*
I can hardly see what I am writing because of the large tears that run down my cheeks.
I had to stop and wipe my eyes. Your story really touched my heart, and I have a pretty tough. I could enjoy a book about this boy and his new grandpa.