**Okay, this one…this one is a little different. When challenge director said old man, candle, and the end of the year, this is what I saw immediately. I hope you like it.**
I was not as agile as I used to be. But I still had my wits about me, still held tradition close to my heart. If I needed the cane to move around, I wasn’t too proud to use it. If my hand shook as I placed the candle on the windowsill, it was at least sure enough that I didn’t drop it. If my fingers weren’t quite nimble enough to use the lighter, at least I could hold a match.
These days, I didn’t stay up late. The mind was willing, but the body was feeling its years. Maybe not quite as many as its actual age, but I was no longer a young man. But on this day, I would remain awake. Because there was something important I had to do. And I had taken a nap earlier.
The house was quiet and still. In a few more years, I probably wouldn’t be able to live on my own. But that time hadn’t come yet, and for that, I was grateful. I needed to be here for this to mean something. This house, this hour, this day.
The tentative voice made me smile, and I turned just my head until I could see my grandson, my namesake, the boy who was my spitting image. The boy looked so much like I had at his age it was uncanny. We’d always been close, and it was the relationship I valued most in the world.
Michael stood in the doorway, holding the hand of his boyfriend and looking uncertain. A cryptic message from his grandfather had probably gotten the boy all worked up. No, not a boy. He was twenty five and had been in a loving, committed relationship with Jacob for a couple of years now.
He’d been so nervous to tell me, certain that his macho, Marine veteran grandfather would turn his back on him once I found out he was gay. He’d never expected my immediate acceptance. Though I had never told him why, tonight that would change.
“Come in, gentlemen,” I said softly. My voice had mellowed in the last few years, and I spoke even more softly because of the occasion. They both walked in and I motioned for them to sit on the sofa. Michael looked a little scared, and Jacob sat closely by as if his presence could give Michael strength. I was sure it did.
Once they were seated, I eased myself down into the recliner, making sure that I was still close enough to the window to light the candle once my story was finished. It took me a minute to get situated, and Michael started to fidget. Jacob’s firm hand on his knee helped to calm him. I smiled.
“When I served in Korea, I fell in love,” I began. “With another Marine in my platoon. Carl was the most beautiful boy in the world, and we stole every secret moment we could to be together.”
Michael gasped, shock all over his face. Then his expression morphed into a little bit of hurt. “What?”
“Let him tell it, sweetheart,” Jacob murmured.
I nodded gratefully. “We made plans, you see. To get out, and be together once we were home. When I mustered out first, Carl stole a kiss and told me to light a candle for him, that he would find me.”
I had to stop and take a breath, willing the tears not to fall. “He didn’t make it home. He died in combat. On New Year’s Eve, 1952. I would never see my beautiful boy again. But I still light a candle for him, every year.”
The match shook in my hand as I tried to light it. I struck it once, twice, but the little flint wouldn’t catch. I bit back the curse, and tried again. Suddenly, warm hands covered mine, and I looked up to see my grandson kneeling at my feet. With a gentle smile, he took the book of matches from me, lit one, and gently held the flame to the candle until the wick caught. The three of use remained quiet, and I kept my eyes fixed on that flame.
The memories were hard. Carl’s smile made the sun pale in comparison, and his big, deep laugh could make even the most stoic of men crack. He’d been a charmer, and I’d fallen for him within hours of meeting him. I’d missed him every day of the last sixty-two years. But on New Year’s Eve, when I lit his candle, I felt closest to him. As if he was helping me let another year go and bring the next year in with his love surrounding me.
I lifted a hand and rested it on the top of Michael’s head. He looked up at me with tears shining in his blue eyes. He pressed my hand against his cheek, and I saw the love and understanding in his eyes. He’d forgiven me for never telling him about myself. And that was what I’d needed.
“I’m a sentimental old fool,” I said, my voice raspy with emotion. “But I hope, when I’m gone, you’ll light Carl’s candle in my stead.”
Michael opened his mouth, then closed it. He swallowed hard, squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, and then opened them to look me straight in the eye.
“We’ll light a candle for you both.”