Chapter 2 – You Can Call Me Al

Chapter 2

So as I was saying, Melissa was an artist. Well, still is an artist if you don’t mind the way the tremors in her hands leave random smears on the canvas. I don’t mind one bit. In fact, I love everything about that woman, from her shaky hands to her frizzy hair to the way she laughs just a little too loud at my goofy jokes.

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“Al Becerra,” she says, “you are such a hoot!”

Yeah, my name is Al. Did I tell you that already? Sometimes the memory gets a little fuzzy after the age of eighty.

Melissa is the reason why I don’t run away from Sleepy Meadows Retirement Home. Well, her and the fact that I’d have no other place to go, except to live with one of my kids, Sadie or Nick. And I can guarantee you that the moment I show up on one of their doorsteps, they’ll drag me right back here to live out my days.

Just for that, I plan to live until I’m at least one hundred, and stick them with the bill.

Anyway, back to Melissa.

Did I tell you how she painted a portrait of me? Well, she did. In my opinion, that painting is a masterpiece. It may sound strange that I hung a giant picture of me in my bedroom, but seeing her artwork on my wall each morning when I open my eyes gives me the strength I need to pull myself out of bed and exercise. Yep, exercise. Morning calisthenics with Melissa was the other thing I get to look forward to each morning.

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“So, Alex,” Richard says, clapping me on the shoulder. “When are you going to confess to Melissa that you’re just a big poseur who hates exercise?”

I twist out of his grasp. “Well Dick,” I say, glaring, “first of all, my name is Al, not Alex.” He knows this. I’ve reminded him time after time. But Richard gets a big kick out of trying to figure out which name Al is a nickname for. He’s still never guessed right. “Second of all, who are you calling poseur? I like exercise just fine.” Granted, I’d rather go for a long swim than do aerobics in front of the TV. But at least it’s time that I got to spend with Melissa.

Richard doesn’t like that she and I spend so much time together, on account for his jealousy issues. You see, he is head over heels for Melissa, too. He does all kinds of crazy things to try and get her attention. When she gets tired of listening to his political tirades, he tries telling jokes, the way I often do. But they often fall flat. He also makes up outlandish stories, like the time he met an actual alien from a distant planet, who took him into his spaceship to run experiments. Or the time he traveled back in time and met his great-grandpa, who traveled out west in a caravan of covered wagons.

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Melissa listens patiently, her eyes twinkling with amusement. Of course she doesn’t believe a word Richard was saying. She just has a way of making people feel listened to.

One day, I finally work up the courage to be romantic, and hand Melissa a big bouquet of flowers I’d cut from the garden out back. “Oh Al!” she cries, burying her face in the bouquet. “They’re lovely!” They also end up making her sneeze, so I have to put them in the kitchen instead of her room. But after that, she and I grow a little closer.

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Unfortunately, Richard also decides that same day that he wants to be closer to Melissa, too. So when the three of us are hanging out, watching TV, he puts the moves on her.

Melissa is not impressed.

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Neither am I. In fact, I don’t say another word to Richard until Family Visit Day a few days later. And I wouldn’t have spoken to him then, either, if it hadn’t been for the Big Fight and the Weird Thing that showed up afterward.

I’ll tell you more later. Right now, I need a nap.

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