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Burger, Meatloaf and Cake

by Lane Bailey 5 months ago in Short Story · updated 3 months ago

Last Lunch with Dad

Burger, Meatloaf and Cake
Photo by Andrew Mascote on Unsplash

Matt slipped into the booth in Rose’s Diner not far from the lake. It was always his father’s favorite stop when he came into town. “What can I git’cha, darlin’?” the waitress asked, her sweet southern accent shining as brightly as her smile.

“My father should be joining me in a few minutes. Can I just get a root beer?”

She smiled and nodded and left the table. A few minutes later she reappeared with his frosted glass, his father on her heels.

“Rose,” he said to her as he slipped into the booth opposite his son, “are you still baking that magnificent chocolate cake?”

“I have one that will be frosted and as fresh as it can be about the time you finish your lunch, Mr. Block,” she replied, her smile beaming at both of the men.

“Then I will save room. That is not a treat to be missed.”

Rose left the table, the men’s orders noted on her pad, a spring in her step at the compliment.

Their lunches were all too rare, but something each of them looked forward to in their absence. Mike Block had divorced Matt’s mother a decade before, when Matt was eight. His father had moved to the Keys, but they had kept a close relationship. Matt flew to Florida each winter and summer, and Mike came to Michigan each spring and fall. The lunches were a way to catch up on all the things that escaped their weekly phone calls, “the briefings,” as the older man had aptly named them.

As they talked, the waitress brought out their lunch. She knew that they would be there for quite a while, they always were, but she remembered Mr. Block tipped well. The two talked quietly as she walked away.

Matt’s burger and his father’s meat loaf had been enjoyable. Finally, it was time for dessert. Two pieces of Rose’s chocolate cake were placed on the table.

“Son, we need to have a serious conversation,” Mike said as he nervously turned the cake plate in front of him, examining each angle. “There are some things we have to attend to.”

“Like what?”

“What do you plan on doing with your life?”

“I was thinking of taking a year to answer that,” Matt replied. “The money you sent for support to Mom has been sitting in an account… I was going to use some of that to travel.”

“Matt, you can go off and play for a year to ‘find yourself,’ but… plot twist… you’re in the mirror. Every day,” the older man’s smirky smile shining through as he enjoyed a bite of the cake.

“I don’t know if it’s as much about the destination as the journey, Dad,” Matt said, frustrated. He knew his dad wouldn’t be excited to see him take a year out of his life. When the older man had been eighteen, he’d gone to a war in Vietnam. His version of finding himself involved digging a hole a little deeper and hoping the bullets went over his head.

“I don’t know that you have time for that. Life is funny that way. You’re rolling along… everything is smooth as silk… the next thing you know, you are on your ass wondering what happened. You aren’t where you remember, and nothing is the way you thought it would be.

“By the same token, you can be fighting for breath, treading water as fast as you can… then you put your feet down and there you are on solid ground. Every part of your life is in focus. It’s just the way things work,” his father finished.

He stabbed the chocolate cake, picking up a piece gingerly with his fork. “I love Rose’s cake. It’s one of my favorite things. It comforts me. Part of me wants to make it last… so I will always have a bit more.”

“It’s good,” Matt replied.

“This cake is like my life. I’m having my last bite.”

“I don’t understand.” He looked at his father, who was looking down, uncharacteristically. He usually walked straight into whatever was troubling him, not avoiding it or dancing around it.

Mike Block wiped a tear from his eye. He looked down at the empty plate in front of him, looked over at his son, sipped his coffee, and looked at the coffee again.

“Doctors tell me I only have a few months… maybe less. My heart’s no good, and my lungs are tore up from cancer. I’m at my end, son.”

“Can’t they do something… a treatment?” Matt asked, feeling his eyes moisten.

“No. I’m past all that. I’m going to tell you not to cry, knowing you will anyway… but it’s ok. I’m ready for the end. So… don’t cry,” the father said to his son as he wiped a tear of his own again.

“Back when you were little, I was sick… some BS… an infection of the blood they said. I was in the hospital, and it was dicey. I prayed. I asked God to let me see you grow into manhood. He did. A few years ago, I had a heart attack. I didn’t tell you or your mother… I didn’t want you to worry. But, as they were getting ready to open me up and look at my heart, I prayed. I prayed that I could see you mature. And again, he did.

“Son, I’m not sad. God has granted my prayers. I’d love to see you marry… have children… bounce them on my knee. But I can’t ask for more. God has already been good to me. Probably more than I deserve. So, it’s ok.”

Matt came around the table to hug his father. For the first time he noticed how hard it was for the older man to move. He recalled him being winded while they were out and about. He’d struggled a bit with his suitcase at the airport.

“How long have you known?” Matt asked his father.

“About the cancer and the bum ticker? Years. Did chemo, but my heart wasn’t strong enough to really go after it, and they didn’t think I could take a heart and lung transplant. But I’ve only known about my expiration date for a couple of weeks.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“What, on the phone? I oughta take away your man card. You don’t do that on the phone. You do it in person,” he said strongly, his defiance back in full force. “Face-to-face. Look, I have done a lot to prepare for my death. But there is still more that needs doin’.”

“Like what?”

“Your future. My past. Unfinished business. No matter how long we are allowed to walk this realm, there will always be a little more we will want to get done.”

***

Matt’s phone rang at five in the morning. He rolled over and looked at it. It was his dad. Panic welled up in the pit of his stomach. Had something happened? Was he already gone?

“Dad?” he said into his phone.

“Sure. When?”

“I’ll be there in thirty minutes,” he said. “I love you, Dad,” he added quickly.

“What’s going on, Honey?” his mom said, cracking his door open.

“It was Dad,” he said, digging through his drawers.

“Oh my God. What happened?”

“You knew?”

“He told me a few days ago. It wasn’t my story to tell. Did something happen?”

“Some business thing. He needs me to take him to the airport,” Matt said, heading for the bathroom to shower and get ready.

“You’d think he could take time off to die,” his mother said under her breath. “Not Mike… no.” She went to get ready in case she was needed. Despite their history, she still loved Mike. She couldn’t stand him… but she loved him.

Twenty minutes after the phone call, Matt’s Cougar pulled out of the driveway. Right on time he pulled up at his dad’s friend’s house. As he got out to knock on the door, his dad slipped out, pulling his suitcase. He looked pale and exhausted, enough that he not only let his son take his bag, but let the younger man help him to the car.

Once at the airport, Matt located a Skycap to wheel his father to the gate. Matt was able to accompany him all the way to the gate, his father with an oxygen cannister on his lap as they rode through the terminal.

“Son,” Mike started, sitting in the wheelchair outside the boarding area, “do you think you can come down to the Keys?”

“What? Now? I mean… I can.”

“No. Geez. Next week. I can send a ticket,” Mike laughed, which turned into a coughing fit. “Damn I hate this. Today isn’t a great day. It’s ok because the last few days have been pretty good. It’s a win.”

“Dad, whatever you need.”

“You’re a good son, Matt,” the father said, patting his son’s hand.

“Mr. Block,” the gate agent said, walking up to the two men, “are you ready to board?”

Mike Block had his son push the wheelchair to the gate and stood up. He started walking down the ramp to the plane. He turned, leaning heavily on the rail. He raised his free hand and waved at his son. Then he turned, disappearing around the bend.

Matt watched the plane to see if he could see his father after he boarded, but he didn’t see him. He stood there until the plane was pushed back, then watched it taxi out onto the apron. He didn’t know if his father could see him, but he waved.

***

A few days later, while talking with his father on the phone, he decided to drive from Michigan to the Florida Keys. He didn’t know how long he’d be there or what he would be doing… having his car would make everything easier. The old man, knowing his son, left a credit card with his mother. “He said it was for your gas and hotels,” she told him.

The following day, he hopped into his car and began his odyssey. It would be over sixteen hundred miles, twenty-five hours. He would get there in about the same time as the soonest flight his father had been able to find. He’d always enjoyed road trips and adventures with his father, but this time he decided that he wanted to just get the miles behind him.

***

Matt was sitting on the Overseas Highway, stuck in traffic on Key Largo, when his phone rang. He tapped the screen, the call going to his earbud.

“Matt,” his mother said the moment he greeted her. He could hear it in her voice. He knew what she was going to say before the words came out. “He’s gone. Your father. He passed overnight. His secretary went to the house looking for him when he didn’t call her back.”

Three hours later he walked into his father’s house. Empty and silent. There was a note on the counter. He picked it up and read it through the tears growing in his eyes.

Son,

It won’t be long now. I want you to know that I’m proud of you. No man could have asked for a better son. Take my ashes out on the boat… spread some in the Gulf and some in the Atlantic. Let me be free. I hope I can watch over you as you grow to be a better man than I ever was. Remember me when I was strong.

Love,

Your Father

A week later, his mother by his side, along with a few of his father’s friends, Matt followed the old man’s wishes. When they were done, he went to the diner right by the marina. He sat down with his mother and ordered a slice of chocolate cake. Second best he'd had.

This was for the Summer Fiction Series challenge #2. Check out #3 below.

Check out my profile here for more stories. You can check out my Amazon Author Page to see my novels.

Short Story

Lane Bailey

Dad, Husband, Author, Real Estate Agent, Jeeper, former Pro Photographer. I have 8 novels on Amazon. I write action/thrillers with a side of romance. You can also find me on my blog.

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