Later that afternoon Chuck loaded up the play set he’d finished for Matt and headed over for the birthday party. He’d hoped he could surprise him with it set up in the backyard. Not a chance of that when he pulled up and saw the families gathering. He brought out his tarp and at least covered the gift as he backed up to the backyard fence. Grabbing the piñata he’d promised to bring, Chuck walked around to the kitchen door, knocking before he entered.
It was chaos in the kitchen as Matt’s Mom, Gretchen, moved the food to the outdoor patio. "Need some help?" he offered.
"Sure," she smiled, "Help me get these hot dogs to the grill. I want you to meet Sam, my new boyfriend."
"Oh, how long has this been going on? Matt hasn’t mentioned anything."
"I always try to keep it on the hush-hush till I know someone’s serious, and I think Sam is."
"Good for you. I know it’s been hard being a single Mom. Hey, I need the key to the back gate so I can unload Matt’s gift. I’ve got the play set assembled for the backyard."
"Great. It’s hanging on the key ring above the dryer. Grab it when you come back."
Carrying a tray loaded with hot dogs, Chuck made his way through the sliding glass door and headed for the grill. He saw Matt there talking to a tall blond man. That must be Sam he thought setting down the tray.
"Hi, Matt, Happy Birthday." Matt ran over giving Chuck a hug before he turned back to Sam.
"This is Chuck. He was my Dad’s best friend in the Army and now he’s my uncle."
"Nice to meet you, Chuck, I was just showing Matt how to turn on the grill."
"Yeah, I get the first hot dog ‘cause it’s my birthday."
"Well, you know what they say, "Don’t get between a boy and his hot dog. I’ve got some other chores to do. See you guys later." Slipping back into the house, Chuck found the gate key and headed for his truck. Maybe Matt would be distracted at the grill for a few minutes.
Opening the back gate, he backed up just far enough into the yard so he could unload his gift. He couldn’t wait to see Matt’s face when he uncovered the play set. I sure would have liked one of these when I was a kid he thought scooting the edges to the tailgate so it would slide off to the ground.
Satisfied it was secure; Chuck glanced up at the patio. Everyone was gathered around the food. Maybe I’ve pulled this off he hoped closing up his truck and moving it to the street.
Joining the backyard crowd, Chuck worked his way to the ice chest grabbing a soda then sat back to watch the festivities. Matt was eating with his friends while his Mom chatted with the parents. Sam was still busy working the grill. One of the Dads joined him to help turn the meat. It looked like a family get-together. Last year I was working the grill he remembered.
"Time to open presents," Matt’s Mom announced a few minutes after dinner. Pulling Matt to a chair by the wrapped gifts, she began handing him gifts to tear open. Working his way through the stack, he came to a big box that he couldn’t hold in his lap so he stood over it ripping the paper off. A remote control helicopter began to show as the box was revealed. The minute the box was opened, Matt began to hoot and holler, "A helicopter like my Dad’s." Running to Sam, he threw his arms around him. "Can you teach me how to fly it?"
Chuck watched the moment and felt his heart sink to his stomach. As happy as he was for Matt, he simply hadn’t realized this moment would come so soon. It looked like Matt might get a new father. Watching the happiness in Matt’s eyes, he knew his gift could never compete with the helicopter. Chuck took a deep breath and calmed himself, Remember that play set will be here for years.
Opening the last envelope, Matt saw it was from his Uncle Chuck. Smiling in his direction, he tore open the card reading about his surprise in the backyard. He looked out and ran to the tarp pulling it off the play set. "My own fort," he yelled running up the ladder to the top. "I can sit here and fly my helicopter." Chuck smiled lifting him from the top and giving him a hug, "Your Dad would be proud of you today."
"Thanks, Uncle Chuck. Come look at my helicopter."
Grabbing a cold beer, Chuck headed to his sanctuary in the backyard. Dropping into the hammock he slowly began to swing while he brooded over the day. Not the day I’d imagined. He stared at his yard remembering how he and Matt’s Dad had talked about what they’d do when they returned home. I dreamed about grass under my feet and I got it, but I can’t keep his dream alive much longer. I guess I need to let that go. I’ll still be a part of Matt’s life no matter what happens. He felt sad realizing this was one more time he had to grieve the loss of his friend. Someone who had been there for him when he lost his Mom.
Looking out at the grass, he remembered his night with Marti. Maybe I need to look at the new things that have come into my life.
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