A little boy came up to Kim last week and said, "I miss Elena."
She looked at him and said, "so do I."
He introduced himself and told her, "she and I dated for a while in Kindergarten."
Poor guy, didn't know how many other five year olds she had flirted with. Not to mention the list of men over fifty who she'd batted eyes at. Elena loved chatting with everyone. She didn't miss an opportunity to wave to anyone she knew. But even at a young age she knew that boys were different.
If we had a heating or plumbing emergency and Bob needed to come over, Elena would make sure her hair was brushed and she was wearing something cute but casual. She'd bounce downstairs and glance at her reflection in the oven door and say to me, "how my look?"
I'd smile and answer, "you look cute." She'd look pleased. "Oh," I'd say, "you need to finish breakfast because Bob will be here soon." She'd nod as if she hadn't known he was coming over.
Bob was here yesterday helping out with a leak. It just didn't feel the same to him or to us for him to be working without Elena shadowing him. I met Bob more than twenty years ago at the Arabica. We used to drink coffee there together with a group of regulars both in the morning and in the afternoon. Seasons would pass and we would move from inside to the patio and back inside. In summer the place would over flow and in winter it would be pretty quiet inside. Some days his son would join him and on Saturdays Sue, his wife, would be there as well.
I probably knew Bob for ten years before I ever used him as a plumber. Through the first decade of our friendship I'd rented an apartment. By the time Bob came to Kim and my wedding, he had already put quite a bit of time into the house that we had bought. He first met Kim, then Maggie, then Elena as my family grew. When he and Sue came through the line at the wake, it was not a stage of my life I'd ever thought he'd witness.
A couple of years ago our heat went out during a very cold spell. We called Bob. He said he'd come over and take a look at it. We almost didn't call him that time. Earlier in the week his daughter had called to invite us to a surprise 50th wedding anniversary celebration that weekend. The girls knew. They also knew it was a surprise.
Bob came over and headed for the basement. He called up the stairs for me to turn the thermostat on and off. He checked to see that the boiler was firing and shutting off when we operated the thermostat manually. Initially Elena sat in her usual spot on the basement steps watching him work. Bob would smile at her and ask her a question and she would just wind herself up and chat to him.
Bob diagnosed the problem. There was a part that would need replacing and he wouldn't be able to get to it until Monday. In the mean time we could run the heat up and then turn it off. Every time the house cooled off too much we could turn the heat on again. It wouldn't work automatically and it wouldn't be efficient, but we could be comfortable enough. Kim and I thanked Bob and said goodbye and told him we'd see him Monday.
Maggie and Elena waved goodbye too and said they'd see him on Monday. Only when he was safely in his truck and backing out of the driveway did Elena start to giggle. "Really," she said, "we're gonna see him tomorrow. He'd going to be so surprised."
We saw Bob Sunday, we saw Bob Monday, and the heat came back.
We didn't see him as much as we used to. The Arabica had long closed down and Bob had started drinking his morning coffee at Kokopellis. It was still pretty close, but he drank coffee around the time the girls had to be at school. When I would drop them off then head over to the coffee shop, Bob was usually on his way to a job. Justin, Tom, and the others didn't seem to be there much any more either.
A couple of years ago we went on a train ride together. It was a nice day trip through the Cuyahoga valley. Kim's dad had gotten tickets for the entire family. We met for breakfast and headed over to the train. As we boarded, there was Bob and Sue and their family. Elena was sure that it was on purpose. She was certain that he knew we were going to be on that train and he had chosen it specifically to spend the day with us.
It was wonderful to have a chance to catch up with Bob yesterday. It was also a bit tough seeing him in the house without Elena conveniently deciding to play with whatever toys might be in the room that he was working in. A long abandoned plastic play stove would command her attention if it happened to be near Bob.