“Angels with Dirty Faces,” Tony shook his head and smiled. “I haven’t watched that movie since I was eight years old.” Pausing, Tony shut his eyes, his mind transporting him to that hospital room so many years ago. “I was alone. Did you know that?”
“Where was your father?” Palmer questioned as he moved over on the bench. “Why wasn’t he there?”
“He’d gone out of town,” Tony’s eyes filled with tears. “The doctors told us that she had just a couple days to live and he went out of town. He wasn’t there to say good-bye. Wasn’t there to dry my tears or hold me. He wasn’t the one that picked me up off her bed when the funeral home came to take her. He never knew that I laid on that bed for hours with her body praying for just one more breath.”
“Tony,” Palmer swallowed hard. He didn’t even try to stop the tears, Tony deserved the raw emotions of the moment.
“That’s when I stopped believing in God,” the grieving child was present trying hard not to sob. “How could a loving God take a mother away from her child when he needed her so much? How could a loving God not see that without her, I was lost?”
“How long before he came back?” Palmer had to force the words to come.
“Three days after the funeral,” Tony huffed out a breath that seemed to be caught somewhere in between his lungs and throat. “She had everything prearranged. Did that as soon as she found out she had cancer; she planned it down to the dinner that followed.”
Moving across the lawn, Tony took a seat under a tree. “My suit was Navy blue and I wore a red tie. She had the earrings from her wedding day made into cufflinks. Nanny put them on me; I didn’t understand back then.”
“Where are they now?” Palmer watched as Tony looked at him. His hand gently reached over to wipe the tears from Palmer’ face. “You still have them?”
“I do,” Tony nodded. “I wear them to weddings; she loved weddings. I never wanted to wear them to a funeral again. It seemed to disrespect her memory. Crazy, I know.”
“No,” Palmer shook his head. “It’s not. What is important is how you feel; the memories you have. Those things, like only wearing them to weddings, it’s how you honor her memory.”
“Senior,” Tony pointed out over the cemetery towards his parent’s grave. “I thought losing him would feel different. We were different, better, I guess when he died.” Pulling off his tie and suit jacket, Tony placed them on the grass beside him. “He spent the last few years of his life trying to make up for all the pain that he caused. I went along with it; I did. I worked hard at being a good son. There are just some things in life; you forgive but don’t forget.”
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Palmer recited.
“Maya Angelou,” Tony smiled. “Very wise lady. There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
“It’s okay to tell your story now, Tony.” Palmer was gentle. “I’ll listen, anytime you need me to listen. Anytime that you want me to listen; I am here.”
“Team’s not the same without you,” Palmer bottom lip quivered slightly. “We were us for a long time.”
“Too long,” there was a sad smile that graced Tony’s lips. “Eleven times.” Tony sighed as he leaned his head back on the tree’s trunk and closed his eyes.
“Eleven what?” Palmer was trying to follow the conversation.
“In my lifetime,” Tony rolled his head to the right to look at Palmer. “He told me eleven times that he loved me.”
“How many times did your mother?” It was a slight push towards a good memory, Palmer hoped.
“More times than I could count,” Tony smiled. “I was her world, just like any child should be.”
“Do you believe in God now?” Palmer had no idea why he even asked that question.
“I do,” Tony’s eyes filled with tears. “When I became a cop; I had to believe in something. I had to believe somewhere out there was someone or something that cared what happened to me.”
“I care,” Palmer whispered as he placed his hand on Tony’s arm. “You’re my best friend; I mean that.”
“I know you do,” Tony sighed deeply; his emotions were all over the place. “I wish I was more like you, Gremlin. Sure of myself in life and love; I thought I wanted that white picket fence with 2.5 kids dream.”
“But you start to fall in love and you panic,” Palmer watched as Tony’s eyes registered that he spoke the truth. “Tony, we’re taught to love when we are children. As we grow, that feeling develops and blossoms into something that attracts our soul mate. We learn to love by example. Tony,” Palmer paused. “You didn’t have that; you were eight when your mother died. You were shipped off to boarding school like you were an inconvenience. The love you witnessed step mother to step mother wasn’t love; it was lust and greed. The people in your life that should have loved you and helped you; left you, not by choice in your mother’s case. In your father’s case, he left you more times than you can even admit to yourself. You learned at a very young age that people disappoint you and hurt you. You decided not to trust; it hurt too much to trust.”
“I remember the way she used to look at him,” Tony smiled. “I want someone in my life that makes me smile like that. I want someone that makes me feel like I am their world. I want to be able to trust someone to be there at the end of the day and to always love me.
“When was the last time you felt that?” Palmer watched his friend’s face.
“The night my mother died,” Tony’s lip started to quiver. “In those last hours, they kept her comfortable with some pretty good drugs. We watched movies on the TV in her room. She held me in her arms and sang to me, she was singing ‘You are my Sunshine’ when she took her last breath and died.”
“It’s been over thirty-five years and I still miss her like it was yesterday. She was the first person to tell me they loved me; she was the only person to ever tell me I was their world. Besides Gibbs, she was the only person to ever say she was proud of me.”
“Gibbs told you that?” Palmer was astounded.
“Just once,” Tony shrugged. “It was enough.”
“You are going to find the right person for you, Tony. It’s just going to take learning how to trust.
“Tell me how to help you,” Palmer was feeling that he needed to do more for his friend. “What can I do to get you through this? Whatever it is you need, I won’t think less of you, Tony.”
“I just want someone to take care of me for a little while,” Tony’s tears started to fall. “I’ve been doing it since I was eight; I just want a break.”
Forty minutes later, Tony found himself in a pair of jogging pants and a sweat shirt; tucked in on a well-worn sofa. Gibbs walked through the living room to sit at his left side, Palmer was at his right. The flick of the remote made the television come alive. The opening credits read ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ and for the second time in Tony’s life, he felt safe and loved.