"Mr. Fredricksen?" Russell looked up and noticed Carl had his eyes closed, but that didn't necessarily mean he was sleeping. Sometimes he just rested his eyes when they'd done something exciting all afternoon.
Sure enough. "Yeah?"
"You know how you came to my ceremony?"
"I was wondering..."
Carl opened his eyes to give Russell a look. The kind that meant he was watching for mischief.
Russell twisted his mouth to one side. He wasn't sure he wanted to ask Carl for anything else, but then, he kind of did, too.
"Well, spit it out." Carl's voice was gruff and suspicious, but Russell had concluded when he sounded like that it meant he was interested. When he wasn't interested, he sounded either angry or bored.
"I was wondering if I could call you Grandpa. It's okay if I can't. It's just, both my grandpas that I already have are dead, and I sort of think of you like one and you show me stuff and you let me come over and you help me with my homework and you know everything and--"
"Jeeze, kid. Fella can't get a word in edgewise."
Carl looked at Russell for a long time, and Russell knew he was blushing. He looked away.
"Yeah, I think Elly woulda liked that," Carl said finally.
Russell lifted his chin. "Really?"
"Really she would have liked it, or really you can call me that?"
Russell frowned for a second and let his eyes wander off to one side so he wasn't quite looking directly. "Um. Both?"
Carl chuckled and leaned forward a little in his chair. "Yes, really."
"Grandpa Carl?" Getting him moved into the assisted living place had taken all day, but Russell didn't mind. Helping Carl had turned out to be one of his favorite things. He listened for an answer, then poked his head around the door jamb. Carl was adjusting the pictures above the fake mantel: four of him and Elly, of course, and two of just her, and then the one from Russell's ceremony and the one from his eighth grade graduation. He tinkered with them a little longer, then stepped back and just looked at them.
Finally, he turned around and startled slightly when he saw Russell had moved out of the bedroom and was leaning against the end of the kitchen counter watching him. "What're you lookin' at?" he asked. He was gruff in the way pictures of Elly made him, and Russell shrugged.
"She always looks good wherever I put her."
"True. Hey, Grandpa Carl?"
"How do you know?"
"Know what?" Carl leaned on his cane and approached Russell, waving a hand as he neared the counter. "Doors are for going through."
"No door," Russell said.
Russell stepped back out of the way. "How do you know when you fall in love?"
Carl stopped still and stared at him for a minute, then continued on into the kitchenette to get a glass of water. "Can't tell ya. Never didn't know."
Russell scowled a little. "Well, that's no help!"
Carl shrugged and filled his glass at the sink. "How old are you, Russell? Fifteen?"
"You got time."
"You met Elly when you were--"
"Elly was a special case." Carl turned around. "So, you got girl troubles?"
Russell shook his head. "Nope. Just a couple of questions." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. "I got your stuff all organized in the bathroom. What next?"
"Next, we heat up a couple of pieces of that pie your mom sent and see if we can't figure out some answers. And if you organized my bathroom supplies by color again, I might have to make you do the dishes."
Russell knocked on the door like he always did, then let himself in, because Carl wasn't about to say he couldn't get up and get to the door, but it was getting harder for him. "Grandpa Carl?"
"In here, son."
Russell followed the voice to the bedroom; Carl sounded a little tense. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, yes. Fine. Just putting up some things."
Russell took the box from Carl's quivering arms and hefted it onto the closet shelf. "You knew I was coming by, Grandpa. I'd have been happy to put that up."
"Didn't want to be a bother." Carl brushed off his hands. "How's that project of yours coming along?"
Russell pursed his lips, then grinned. "Awesome, actually."
"Good, good." Carl picked up his cane from where it was leaning against the wall. "Now, where are we going?"
"I was thinking we could go to my place, watch the ballgame, have a root beer... um, I sort of invited Chris too."
Carl's eyebrows, which had been untamed and enormous when they first met and had only gotten more out of hand over time, went up. "Chris?" He cracked a grin. "Aren't you worried I'll tell embarrassing stories?"
Russell grinned back, although he knew he was blushing. "Very. But I think it's time you two met. I mean, I want--"
"My approval? I don't think you need that. You're a good boy, smart kid. Good judgment."
"Thanks, but... I still want it. If it's okay."
"Yeah, all right. Oh!" Carl looked sharply at Russell.
"I just thought of something." His voice was tense again.
"Chris isn't a Yankees fan, right?"
Russell laughed. "I think we're safe."
"Grandpa Carl?" Russell paused in the doorway. He could feel Chris against his back, peering over his shoulder. Carl's eyes were closed, and he didn't want to disturb him. He turned his head to speak. "Maybe we should come back by in a little while."
"None of that," Carl said. He patted the bed next to him. "I'm not dying. I'm just ignoring the fact I'm in a hospital. Stupid hip."
Russell hesitated a moment, then went on in. "How's it feeling?"
"You two here to spring me? Please?" He cracked one eye open, then grumbled about his eyes and felt on the table for his glasses.
"I think you have to actually let them set it good first, Mr. Fredricksen," Chris said.
"Well, I wish they'd do it faster." Carl stuck his glasses on his face and patted the bed again. "You kids have a good time in Mexico?"
"It was really great," Russell said, sitting carefully. "Just like all your stories."
"Still romantic as hell?"
"You know that picture of the sunset?" Chris asked.
"Of course I know that picture of the sunset," Carl said. "I'm old, not feeble-minded." He winked. "That good, then?"
"It was awesome, Grandpa." Russell glanced over his shoulder at Chris. "Just like your first trip there."
"That so?" Carl paused, then patted Russell's knee with his gnarled old hand. "Your grandma Elly would be so proud of you, Russell. Both of you, traveling like this and seeing new things and being fearless..."
"We're just following your example, Mr. Fredricksen," Chris said.
Carl pointed and scowled. "I think I have told you before, pipsqueak. I have exactly one grandchild, and we would have loved to have more. You call me Grandpa."
Russell stood. "You'd better do it. He gets cranky when he doesn't get his way."
"So I've heard." Chris pulled the chair up next to the bed and sat down. "So, Grandpa. Thought of any more good Russell stories?"
"Have I told you the applesauce story?"
Russell groaned and unmuted the television, then went and found another chair.