It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. Rick Simon slept in and got up around 12:30. It was after all a Sunday, and he and his brother, A.J., didn't have any pending cases to work on. The only reason he woke up was that his dog, Marlowe, demanded he be let out.
Now that he was up, he thought he could use some coffee to clear his head. He got out of his boat, which had been parked indefinitely in the yard of his brother's home, and walked into A.J.'s kitchen in his skivvies, undershirt and ever-present hat carrying his boots, a shirt and a pair of jeans in his hand. He grabbed the nearest coffee mug that looked reasonably clean.
As he poured the dark liquid into the mug, he heard A.J. saying, "Good afternoon, Rick. Please help yourself with coffee. And why don't you try some mushroom omelet that I prepared for brunch while you're at it?"
Rick had been up for five minutes tops, and his brother was already on his case.
"If you insist," retorted Rick, but he had no intention of eating the omelet. Knowing A.J., 'mushroom' could mean something exotic like chanterelle, or morel, or truffle. Fancy names, but they were still fungi, related to molds. Why A.J. would want to ruin good food like eggs with something from the mold family was beyond Rick's comprehension.
When Rick walked into the living room with the coffee mug in one hand and most of his clothes in the other, A.J. looked horrified.
"Good Lord! Did anyone in the neighborhood see you walking around in underwear?"
As usual, he was impeccably dressed in a designer polo shirt and chinos, perfectly creased of course, just to read the Sunday paper on the couch in his own living room.
"Why you must wear your hat before you put on your pants, I'll never know."
Just to get his brother off his back, Rick put on the jeans before parking himself in the armchair. A.J. had a pen in his hand, so Rick gathered he was working on the crossword in the paper.
"36 across. Nine letters, two words for someone who is excessively irritating," said A.J. pointedly, his eyes fixed on his brother.
"Andy Simon?" suggested Rick straight-faced, but he couldn't hold back a grin any longer when he saw A.J. roll his eyes.
A.J. eventually returned to his crossword puzzle and let Rick enjoy his first cup of coffee. It was drizzling outside—a rare phenomenon in San Diego—and the house was quiet, just occasional rustling noises of the newspaper and snorts from Marlowe, who had lain down at Rick's feet. It was A.J.'s kind of day—he would spend a whole day snugly curled up on the couch reading, but Rick hated a day like this—gray, wet and too quiet.
"Hey, wanna watch some TV, A.J.?"
It wasn't that Rick wanted to watch TV, but he had nothing else to do.
"Not when I'm doing my crossword, I don't," replied A.J., eyes glued to the puzzle.
"How 'bout some music then?"
A.J. let out an exaggerated sigh and looked up from the newspaper.
"All right, all right. Why don't you listen to the radio, but I don't want to hear anything obnoxious. And keep the volume down, okay?"
When Rick turned on the radio, it was tuned to National Public Radio. Yikes! As he turned the dial up and down looking for a station both he and A.J. could tolerate, an old, familiar melody from the past caught his ear:
Red sails in the sunset, way out on the sea
Oh carry my loved one home safely to me…
Rick's taste in music lay almost exclusively in the country & western and classic rock genres, but he remembered this song was his late father's favorite. No, not exactly—'favorite' wasn't quite adequate to describe his father's emotional attachment to it.
The song took him way back—he must have been no more than eight or nine. Suddenly, he was reliving old memories through a child's eyes.
Rick's father, Jack, frequently hosted a poker night with his army buddies in the rec room of their home back then when the boys were young. He and Cecilia would usually send their little ones upstairs before the game started, but one night, she had trouble corralling them. A.J. charmed his way through the poker players' rough exteriors and into their hearts, by climbing onto their laps, giving his father slobbery kisses, and just being A.J.
Rick was standing by the door of the rec room looking in. That's how he often felt those days—being outside looking in. He was already a budding rebel of sorts because he had grown tired of competing against his baby brother for their parents' attention. And it wasn't only their parents. Everyone, even total strangers, would come up and coo over A.J.'s cherub face and white blond curls when they were out together. Was he jealous of his brother? Possibly—he certainly resented the fact that he was no longer the center of his micro-universe, where he had had his parents all to himself for the first several years of his life.
In the rec room, Cecilia was about to pluck A.J. off his father's lap when a song called Red Sails in the Sunset came on though Rick couldn't remember it had been on the radio or a record. Like most men in his generation, Jack loved big swing band music and jazz. One of his favorite singers was Nat 'King' Cole, and Rick and A.J. had been listening to his songs all their lives.
"Daddy, Daddy, I know this song!" A.J. squealed and started singing along albeit markedly off-key in a childish way.
She sailed at the dawning
All day I've been blue…
A.J. still being a toddler, what came out of his mouth was something like "Aw day I bin bwoo." Some of the men at the poker table, with a few drinks already under their belt, cracked up as A.J. continued to belt out his rendition of the song, which had been around for a couple of decades. Laughter was infectious, and even Cecilia collapsed in an empty chair with a fit of laughter. Soon, everyone was laughing—except Jack, Rick noticed. His father had a smile on his lips, but he looked rather sad than amused.
A.J. enjoyed being the center of attention, but the excitement was too much for him to bear for a prolonged period of time. He conked out about half an hour later while he was still in his father's lap. Cecilia was ready to carry him upstairs, but Jack shook his head.
"No, Ceci. I'll do it. I'm folding anyway."
He tossed his hand of cards on the poker table and got out of the chair.
Jack spotted Rick on his way out of the rec room.
"You'd better come along, buddy. It's long past your bedtime."
Cradling A.J. in one arm, Jack put his hand on Rick's back and led him upstairs to the boys' bedroom.
Jack had already tucked A.J. in and was sitting at the foot of the bed watching his youngest son sleep when Rick came out of the bathroom. He looked up as his first-born walked into the room.
"Did you brush your teeth, Ricky?"
"All right. I'll tuck you in then."
When Rick lay down, Jack pulled up the blanket all the way to the boy's chin and planted a kiss on the top of his head.
"Night, Ricky. Sleep tight."
He expected a 'good night' from his son, but Rick silently regarded him.
"Got something on your mind, son?" Jack asked with a puzzled look.
He could see Rick struggling to form his question into words. At the end, he simply asked, "Dad, are you sad?"
Jack was a little taken aback. "Sad? What makes you think I'm sad?"
"When A.J. was singing that song—your favorite—everyone was laughing, but you looked…kinda sad…"
Jack's stare was so intense, Rick thought his father was mad at him, but after a few moments, he broke into a grin.
"Out of the mouths of babe," he chuckled shaking his head.
"I'm not a baby anymore, Dad."
"No, I guess not," concurred Jack solemnly. "And that's why I'm telling you this; yes, I was a little sad when the song was on."
"I always thought you liked it."
"Oh, I do. A lot."
"Really? How come?"
It was Jack's turn to struggle to provide an answer as his son held his quizzical gaze upon him.
"My friend…a very good friend of mine and I used to listen to the song together during the war…" he started haltingly.
"And he got killed in the war?"
"Yes, something like that." Jack was evasive adding no further details.
"Then how come you wanna listen to it if it makes you sad?"
Jack took a deep breath before he answered. "Because when someone you love is gone, you have only memories to hang onto."
Rick had heard many of his father's war stories involving his army buddies who had been killed in Europe, but he was still too young to fully grasp the concept of death.
"When my pet turtle died, I thought about him a lot though it made me feel sad. And I didn't want to throw away his food for a long time."
He regretted as soon as he said it because it sounded stupid and childish.
Jack smiled a sad smile and whispered, "Yeah, something like that…"
"But it's not the same, is it?"
Jack just shrugged and looked his son in the eye. "Doesn't matter. Just forget what I said, okay? I don't want you to grow up too fast, buddy."
Not knowing what to say, Rick nodded.
"Good boy." Jack bent over and gave Rick a kiss on the forehead. "Night, Rick."
"Good night, Dad."
His father used to call him Ricky when he was in a good mood, Richard when he wasn't. As far as he could remember, it was the night he had heard his father call him Rick for the first time. It felt like a big promotion toward the path to adulthood, but of course, he was just a little kid who had no inkling of what lay ahead of him.
"Rick? Rick? You all right?"
A.J.'s voice brought Rick back from reverie. Nat 'King' Cole was singing the last few notes of his song. He realized that he was still standing in front of the stereo.
"Huh…? Oh, yeah. I'm all right."
"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you looked like you were brooding," snickered A.J.
Rick didn't feel like bantering and ignored his brother's remark.
"That was Dad's song."
"He loved all the songs by Nat 'King' Cole. I still have all of his records."
"Yeah, but he was particularly attached to that song we just heard."
"He was? Did he tell you that?"
"In a way, yeah."
Swift wings you must borrow
Make straight for the shore
We marry tomorrow
And she goes sailing no more…
I don't want you to grow up too fast, Rick remembered his father saying. I guess I'm all grown up, Dad, because now I see…
It didn't take a genius or a detective to figure out what significance the lyrics held for his father and his wartime so-called friend. The newly gained insight into his father's past didn't upset him, however, as it would have in his younger years. He himself had fought for his country, and he was now older than his father had been during WWII. Still, it was odd to be able to see your father objectively as just another young man and soldier fighting in a war far, far away from home.
"Hey, Rick? Are you listening? What did Dad say?" A.J. sounded and looked peeved.
"In good time, little brother," said Rick with a half smile.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'll tell you all about it when you're all grown up."
Rick ducked and easily avoided the throw pillow A.J. had hurled at him. When he ran out of fluffy ammo, A.J. started to hurl insults attempting to lure his brother into another round of verbal sparring. Rick didn't rise to the challenge and kept a smile plastered on his face although he felt… What? He couldn't quite put his finger on it. Sad? Bittersweet? Melancholic perhaps?
As he awkwardly groped for some words to describe his innermost feelings, which were often shielded even from himself, Rick wondered if that was how his father had felt when he had heard his song playing in the rec room lifetimes ago.