A clap of thunder signaled the start of a rainstorm, adding to the figurative rainclouds already hovering above Arnold and his parents. With Grandma and Grandpa off on their way to an unknown location to spend their retirement, the family Shortman continued to stare sadly at the door they had disappeared through. After what felt like several long minutes of silence, Miles at last turned to his son and tried to smile encouragingly.
"Don't be sad, Arnold," his father comforted him, "If anyone ever deserves a retirement, it's them."
"And besides, we'll see them again," Stella assured him, "Probably. I just wish they would have told us where they were going… or I wish they knew..."
"Dad and Mom do have their own way of doing things," Miles shrugged, "They said they'd call when they got there. I just hope we can keep this place up like they-"
Miles was interrupted by a knock at the door. Arnold looked at the door suspiciously then walked over to answer the knocking.
"Hello?" Arnold asked.
"Hello there, young man," Grandpa Phil said, removing his hat, "I noticed you had a room for rent and I just- Arnold!" He gasped in what sounded like genuine surprise, "Oh it's you!"
Grandpa threw his arms around the confused boy and cried out for joy.
"Oh it's been too long!" Grandpa laughed, "Look at you! You haven't aged a day! Not growing too fast either, are you? Miles!"
"Dad?" Miles felt as confused as Arnold.
"Long time no see. Say, I see you're still running your own boarding house, just like your old man back in the day," Grandpa laughed, tussling his son's hair.
"I uh… yeah, I sure am." Miles shrugged. "Um, how are you two? How's… retirement going?"
"Retirement? Oh that's been fine. We haven't quite gotten to all our assorted travel plans yet, but Pookie and I are on the market for a place to stay and, well I don't suppose you'd have a room to rent to these two old fools?" Grandpa asked.
Miles and Stella looked at one another and grinned mischievously.
"Well, I don't know…" Stella said, "This place is in high demand these days."
"Oh, please!" Grandpa begged, "Let me tell you, it is hard out there! The housing market in this city is just insane!"
"I suppose the master bedroom did just become available." Miles chuckled, not entirely sure if Grandpa had planned this all as a joke or if he was actually serious, and he felt equally unsure of which possibility scared him more.
"Oh that's wonderful!" Grandpa said, "We'll take it! C'mon, Pookie, we'd better get unpacked."
"Well, I'm going to go dust off the old piano," Grandma said, "It's been too long."
Miles helped his parents with their bags and began carrying them up the stairs. He looked at his old man and said, "Room and board are included. We can discuss the rent over dinner. I'm cooking."
Grandpa was looking disdainfully around the hallway and shaking his head disapprovingly.
"Sheesh, would you just look at the state of this place! It's a mess!" Grandpa bemoaned, "Well, now that I'm retired, I guess I'll have plenty of time to pitch in around here."
Arnold could do little more than smile compliantly as his mother just looked on in amazement.
"Well, Arnold… it's like they never left…" she said, then looked at him with a half grin, "How exactly did you turn out so… normal?"
Arnold shrugged, "The older I get the more I realize how much of life I'm never going to understand…"
Once Grandpa had unpacked his bag and settled back into his room he stepped out of the building and sat on the front stoop. The rain had cleared and now the sun was beginning to set over the Sunset Arms. The old man smiled to himself, feeling unusually satisfied and content with his life. The sound of his wife playing the piano atop the roof filled the evening air with music, and as he enjoyed the moment to himself, he found himself joined by his grandson.
"Hey there short man." Grandpa said.
"Hi Grandpa," Arnold answered. "I just have to ask… were you really ever planning to leave? Or was this all just a stunt?"
"What?" Grandpa shouted, "What do you take me for? This whole thing just happened by pure- okay, yes maybe just a little bit sort of."
"But why, Grandpa?" Arnold asked.
"Oh, I suppose I just wasn't really sure where I fit in around here anymore," Grandpa said, then looked at Arnold poignantly, "Or in your life…"
"Grandpa, what would this place be without you and Grandma? You're the heart and soul of the Sunset Arms," Arnold said, "Even if Mom and Dad are practically running the show now, we still need you two around to lift our spirits and make us laugh. We still need you… we always will. Besides, you've seen how behind Mom and Dad are on the times. You're way ahead of the curve. They still need your help."
"Well, I suppose." Grandpa said.
"I'm a really lucky kid. I've got two parents that are great, and two grandparents that are great."
"Oh we're just good grandparents," Grandpa laughed, "Just be careful of that little friend of yours with the one eyebrow. We don't wanna be great grandparents…"
"Grandpa…" Arnold groaned, though not entirely sure what that meant.
"Oh I'm just joshing you," Grandpa chuckled.
"So, what are you gonna do now?" Arnold asked.
"Oh Pookie and I are still planning to get out and experience the world a little… but we thought maybe we'd start small first. I wouldn't trade the time I've spent with you for anything, but now I've finally got time to pursue my hobbies! I'm passing the parental duty baton to the next generation! I'm finally a free man again! Heh, heh, heh!"
"Oh." Arnold smiled, "Well that's great. What are you gonna do?"
"Well short man let me tell you… I have no idea." Grandpa shrugged.
"Join a bridge club?" Arnold suggested.
"What?" Grandpa gasped, sounding almost offended, "That's for old geezers who have given up on life! Oh, I know! I'm gonna start training to do what I planned to do before your folks took off."
"Um… I'm afraid to ask." Arnold said cautiously, "Oh no… you're not going to do the Old Iron Man race again are you?"
"Nah. I'm past all that crazy stuff." Grandpa assured him.
"Oh good…" Arnold sighed in relief.
"But Everest ain't gonna climb itself!" Grandpa declared, "Or maybe I should start with something smaller, like K2, Kilimanjaro… or maybe just the Matterhorn! Doctor says I could live to a hundred and ten, so I'm gonna use those years to the fullest!"
Suddenly Grandma, now dressed as a Sherpa guide, and carrying a climbing backpack larger than her, burst through the front door cackling wildly.
"Come on, Sir Edmund!" she shouted, "Base camp awaits! We've got Yetis to tame!
She reached into the pack and pulled out an alpine hat that she placed onto Grandpa's head, and then handed him a grappling hook.
"Grandpa… don't you think that's pushing it?" Arnold asked cautiously, "You sure about living life that full?"
"Hmm, you're probably right." Grandpa admitted, "A mountain that size might be biting off more than we can chew for a start. Now let's see, what's a good place to warm up? Should we try scaling buildings downtown? Oh, how about Hawk Mountain? Or maybe just that really steep hill in the park."
"Well, the world's our oyster now, let's go shuck it, Slim." Grandma said.
With that, both of the seniors took off down the street laughing merrily as they set off on their likely soon to be misadventure. Arnold watched with some concern.
"I think I should be worried…" Arnold muttered to himself.
"Nah," came the voice of Helga out of the blue, "I wouldn't worry about them."
Arnold jumped when he saw Helga standing to his left.
"Helga?" he gasped, "Where did you- how did-"
"I'm not magic, you're just not that observant." she said, dismissing his surprise as she sniffed the air, "Mm, something smells good? Your parents cooking? Can I invite myself to dinner here? Thanks, football head."
"Uh," Arnold felt slightly overwhelmed, but suddenly a loud crash in the distance followed by the sound of Grandma's wild laughter caught both kids attention.
"Then again, maybe they do need some adult supervision," she said, and grabbed Arnold by the wrist, "Come on."
The two of them ran off in the direction Arnold's grandparents had fled. They couldn't see either of them, but could hear Grandpa's voice loudly declaring, "Ah, this is exactly how I always envisioned my retirement. So relaxing!"
Grandma's raucous laughter echoed throughout the city as Arnold and Helga gave chase. The two retirees had been unleashed on the world, and even if they were sticking around, life certainly wouldn't stay the same.
I built this whole story around that one scene where Grandma and Grandpa instantly return after their poignant departure, thus instantly undercutting the drama. Don't mean to oversell it but the mere thought of that made me laugh aloud when I first imagined it, and I hope it did for you too…