I think back now and I don't know what to think. It was a hard time. A hard thing to go through. I don't know what John must have been going through. It's hard for me to think about all that had happened and not wonder how John made it through. Those boys were his whole life.
I know that you must think this old lady is a bit senile for thinking of them that way. Boys, I mean. I know they were full grown men, but to me they will always be boys. I'll never forget how I met them. Watching them frolic on the beach like children...I don't think I will ever forget that and even for all the pain that followed, I wouldn't want to forget. But enough of this...You mustn't let an old woman babble too long, you wanted to know what happened next...
Well, let me see...It broke John's heart to have to commit HM to the VA again. Oh, he knew it was the right thing to do. We all know that, but still it hurt. At least it started to turn for the best rather quickly. I don't think John could have handled any more bad news.
Right after we committed HM, BA went to stay with his mother. He would have been gone long before that but he couldn't leave with everything being the way that it was. I thought he might leave after we found out about Templeton, but then HM...Well, he was needed.
Let me see, I believe it was a Sunday. Yes, yes, it was a Sunday. I remember now. HM was over and we were making cookies. Peanut butter cookies. I know it was a Sunday because we were making them for him to take back to the VA. You see, it had been about two months since he had been re-committed and he was allowed to come home on the weekends.
John had went to see Maggie off at the airport. She was going to a conference. Yes, and we were waiting for John to come back.
"When did John say he would be back?"
HM looked up from his spot at the counter. He was covered in flour. "I think he said six."
Glancing up at the clock, it was half-past two. "Well, we have plenty of time then. Why don't we take a break and go for a walk. We'll put these in the oven when we get back."
"Righty-O, Mrs. Eta."
I laughed as HM bounced to the glass doors leading to the patio. I snagged a light-weight jacket from the closet in the hall before following him.
It wasn't a cold day, but it was windy. We walked down the narrow path that led to the beach. As soon as we hit the bottom of the path, HM ran ahead. I laughed as he threw a stick for "Billy" to chase. The dog must not have done what was expected of him because HM started to run in circles around me calling for the "dog" to stop. Finally he gave up and fell to the ground in a dizzy heap.
I stooped to pick a green stone from the wet sand. Looking closer at the stone I found that it was actually a small piece of smoothed glass. I wondered how long it had tumbled in the surf to round the edges that way.
HM picked up a large stone and threw it into the ocean. I could tell something was bothering him. I wondered if perhaps we should have stayed up top, away from the beach. Sometimes being reminded of the things that he and Templeton did together would still upset him. I stood beside him looking out at the ocean that Templeton had loved.
Templeton used to say that the ocean made him feel free. I always thought that he looked like something wild that had been tamed when I saw him standing in the wind. His hair whipping about him and his clear blue eyes, the color of the sky, staring out at the horizon. He looked...longing.
HM had that look now. His eyes fixed on the ocean as though he were waiting for something. HM is such a delicate soul. That sounds like an old woman's folly, doesn't it? Perhaps what I mean to say is not so clear.
Sometimes we hear something and wonder what it means. We may ponder it over and over, for years even, and still never know what it means. Then, when we have forgotten all about it, something will happen and we suddenly remember and know what it's meaning.
It's a simple quote. It comes from the Bible. I have always thought that it was pretty. Now I ponder, what of the angel when his job is done? Would he look so longingly as HM, perhaps waiting for the Lord to call him home? Is that what HM is waiting for.
Shaking myself from my own thoughts I took a seat in the sand beside him. We sat like that for some time before he spoke.
"Mrs. Eta, do you believe in angels?"
Startled that his thoughts should be so close to mine, I didn't answer for a moment. "I'm not sure. I do believe that sometimes we need to believe in them."
HM picked up another stone. It was black as Onyx. He smoothed it with his thumb, like a worry stone. "When do we need to believe in them?"
I watched as he rubbed the stone and thought about what I should say, "HM, sometimes things happen that we all need help dealing with. Sometimes it just helps to know or at least to believe, even if only for that moment, that there is something bigger than ourselves out there watching over us. Guarding our way."
The black stone skipped across the water before diving beneath a wave. "Do you think that if someone...died, before they were ready, that they could become an angel?"
I watched as he picked up another stone, this time a brown one. "I don't know."
The stone skipped into a wave. "I have to tell you something, but you can't tell Hannibal or anybody." He looked at me with his longing eyes and I nodded encouragingly. "I hear him sometimes."
Shaking my head, he could see that I didn't understand. "The angel. I hear him sometimes. He talks to me." Now he was sifting sand through his hands. I watched as a little pile built up, like in an hourglass. "I think it's Face."
I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to hurt him, but would agreeing with him be for the best. But then, what if I told him it wasn't real, would he ever trust me again? Would denying it make him better or worse? Deciding on the middle ground, I tried to still my voice as I spoke, "What does he say?"
He seemed relieved and even smiled a little. I knew then that I had done the right thing. "He tells me not to worry and that everything will be all right. And he tells me to wait."
"Wait for what?"
"He doesn't say but I know it's something important." He glanced up from his little pile of sand. "Do you think I'm just crazy?
I gave him a gentle smile and rubbed him on the back. "HM, you've always been a little crazy, but if an angel wants to talk to you, I think the least you could do is listen. So long as he doesn't tell you to do something bad."
He leaned into my arm a little then straightened up again. The look of longing that I had seen in his eyes earlier was gone and he appeared as if the weight of the whole world had just been lifted from his shoulders. "Now, about those cookies..."
HM giggled and jumped to his feet, holding out his hand to help me up. Once I was back on my feet, he held onto my hand for just a moment, a serious expression on his face, "Thank you, Mrs. Eta. For everything." He then quickly smiled and bounded up the path away from the beach, leaving me to follow more slowly.
Just as I passed the slightly overgrown path that lead to Templeton's "secret spot", I turned one more time to look out at the horizon. A soft wind blew past me loosening a strand of hair from my bun. As I tucked it back, I could have sworn I heard someone below call my name.