Don't eat the candle, son!" Owen Jones was laughing so
hard he was sure he had blurred the three pictures he
had just taken. "Let Mommy light it so you can blow
it out. Honey, hurry! This is going downhill fast."
Hailey Jones wiped the tears off her face and tried to look
serious as she bent down and put a yellow candle in the middle
of the red fire-truck cake. "Remember what Mommy told you:
The candle is hot. Don't touch it."
Hailey struck a match and lit the candle and began to sing
slowly until everyone in the room joined in:
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday, dear Daniel,
Happy birthday to you.
"Okay," Owen said, "blow!"
Daniel's mouth formed an O, and he produced noise and
drool, but no wind.
"Let Grandma help." Ellen Jones stood behind the boy's
highchair, then bent down and put her cheek next to his.
"Ready? One . two . three . blow!" She let out a quick puff of air
and the candle went out. "You did it! Good job, Daniel!"
Everyone cheered and clapped.
The birthday boy squealed with delight and grabbed a fistful
of icing. He squeezed it through his fingers, then brought it to
"Are you going to let Grandpa eat part of that fire truck?"
Guy Jones said.
Daniel offered a handful of red goo to Guy, who pretended
to take a bite. "Mmm . that's good. I want more. More! Give
Daniel giggled and grabbed another handful of icing and
held it up.
"Better let me cut the cake before he grosses us all out,"
Owen heard the phone ringing and went out to the kitchen.
"May I speak with Ellen Jones, please?"
"Sure. May I tell her who's calling?"
"My name won't mean anything to her. I'm her father's
"Did something happen?"
"It isn't an emergency, but I need to make her aware of
something. If this isn't a good time, maybe she could call me
"No, it's fine. Hold for just a minute."
Owen went into the dining room and motioned to Ellen.
"Mom, the phone's for you. It's Granddad's neighbor. She says
it's not an emergency."
"How would she know to call me here?"
Guy smiled sheepishly. "I forwarded our calls here. If the tailor
calls, I thought we could pick up my suit on the way home."
Hailey turned to Owen. "Darling, would you get the ice
cream? Oh, and the plates, napkins, and forks? They're on the
Owen followed his mother into the kitchen and took the ice
cream out of the freezer and listened to her end of the phone
"Have you ever noticed this behavior before now?" Ellen
said. "I didn't know that . Did you ask him about it afterwards .?
I'm sorry. My father can be really blunt . Yes, I can see
that . I guess I need to drive down there . No, not at all. I appreciate
your letting me know." Ellen hung up the phone and
seemed to be staring at nothing.
"Is everything all right with Granddad?" Owen said.
"Sounds as though his mind is slipping."
"Mom, he's what, almost ninety?"
"Eighty-seven, actually, and this isn't normal forgetfulness.
Sybil, his neighbor across the street, found him sitting in her
porch swing yesterday afternoon. She went outside and asked if
there was something she could do for him. He said no, but for
her to go ahead and make herself at home. She didn't know what
to say and went back inside. When she looked out again, he was
standing in his own yard, watering the flower beds."
Owen smiled. "He was probably kidding around. You know
how he is."
"Sybil's convinced Dad didn't have a clue he wasn't sitting on
his own porch. She asked him this morning if he liked the new
cushions on her swing, and he got huffy. Asked her how he
should know since she never invites him over. Apparently, he's
over there all the time. She thought he looked scared."
"I can't imagine Granddad being scared of anything."
"Me either, Owen. This is disconcerting. Unless the neighbor
is overreacting, it sounds as though he shouldn't be living alone."
Ellen breathed in and exhaled. "I've been dreading something
like this since Mother died."
"What're you going to do? He'll never agree to move."
Guy breezed through the doorway. "Hey, what's holding up
the ice cream? What did the neighbor want?"
Ellen told Guy everything Sybil Armstrong had said. "I don't
know what we should do. Dad and I wouldn't last a week under
the same roof, but he's certainly not ready for nursing care."
"Honey, both our fathers would be better off in Seaport
where we can watch out for them. Maybe it's time to look into
Ellen raised her eyebrows. "Yes, we could hog-tie my dad
and haul him here kicking and screaming. I can hardly wait."
"Too bad they couldn't move in together," Owen said.
There was a long moment of silence.
"Why couldn't they?"
"Mom, I was kidding."
"They've always seemed to get along. It's certainly worth considering.
Dad's in reasonably good physical shape even if his
mind's slipping. And Roland's mind is sharp, even if his arthritis
slows him down. They might be good for each other."
"You're serious," Guy said.
"It would solve our immediate problem of getting them to
move out of their houses and transition from being independent.
This could be a huge first step in preparing them for assisted living,
don't you think?"
"Well, I . I suppose they could move in together," Guy said.
"But would they? Better yet, should they? I mean, is it feasible to
Hailey poked her head in the kitchen. "Where's the ice
cream? The birthday boy's getting antsy."
"Sorry, I got sidetracked." Owen picked up the stack of
plates and utensils and the ice cream and looked over at his parents.
"I really was kidding. But if you decide to go through with
it, you know Hailey and I will help you any way we can. It'd be
great having them closer, and I'd love for Daniel to have a chance
to know them."
"Well," Ellen said, "Daniel may be just the hook we need to
get your grandfathers to consider this."
Ellen sat on the veranda of her home, listening to the crickets and
aware of her heart pounding much too fast.
Guy came outside and pulled the other wicker rocker next to
hers and sat. "I heard your wheels turning all the way in the living
room. You want to talk about it?"
"I don't even want to think about it, much less say it out
"Honey, you knew your father couldn't be independent
"He's managed this long, I actually thought he might." She
glanced up at one bright star visible between the tree branches. "I
dread the thought of him living nearby, and I feel guilty for feeling
"Well, there's a lot of bad history between you two. Maybe
that'll change now."
"I can't erase a lifetime of hurt just because Dad is suddenly
"No, but maybe he's mellowed. You've hardly seen him in-"
"Don't remind me how long it's been. I feel bad enough hisneighbor had to call and inform me his mind is slipping."
Guy took her hand in his. "Well, let's take one step at a
time. At least we know my dad is open to sharing an apartment
with yours. All we have to do now is convince Lawrence it's a
"Surely you don't think he's going to give up his house and
move here without a fight?"
"Probably not. But he can't stay in Ocala."