|Rollie Tyler stood beside Manny, watching in satisfaction as the gag
they had just set up went off without a hitch.
“Cut! And that’s a print, ladies and gentleman,” the director said, extremely pleased. He looked over at the F/X artists. “That was beautiful, guys. Great job.” The man then called a wrap for the day.
Rollie shared a grin with Manny, then looked down at Angie, who was standing on his other side. She smiled at him brightly. “So, how did you like that one, sweetie?” he asked the twelve-year-old.
“That was super! It was just like I imagined it would be.”
Rollie gave her a quick hug, feeling her arm go around his waist. During these months that he had been working for Manny, he had truly come to feel like he was part of a real family again. Four months ago, Manny and Angie had given him the best birthday that he’d had in a very long time. He couldn’t imagine life getting any better than this.
“Shall we pack this stuff up and get out of here?” Manny asked.
The three of them quickly loaded up the equipment and headed to the loft, picking up dinner on the way. As they ate, they chatted about the next day’s schedule.
“We’re going to be pretty busy over these next two days. The director wants to squeeze in as much as he can before everyone breaks for Thanksgiving,” Manny commented. He looked at his apprentice. “You are, of course, coming over for Thanksgiving dinner.”
There was a long pause before Rollie answered. The smile that had been on his face had faded. “Um, that’s really nice of you to invite me, Manny, but Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday that I celebrate. We don’t have it in Australia.”
“But you’re here in the U.S. now,” Angie objected. “You have to come to Thanksgiving supper. We’ll have turkey, and stuffing, and yams, and pumpkin pie, and everything else. We always have lots of friends over. And it’ll be so much more fun with you there this year.”
Rollie stared down at the table before him. “I’m sorry, Angie. I can’t. I’ve already got other plans for that day.”
“But Rollie!” Angie said, not willing to accept the Aussie’s answer.
“Angela, if Rollie has other plans for Thanksgiving Day, then we can’t expect him to break them,” Manny said, his gaze remaining on Rollie, whose eyes had not lifted from the table. “There will be lots of other Thanksgivings.”
Rollie finally looked up. Manny could see sadness in the young man’s eyes. The Aussie turned his gaze to Angie, who was looking as if she was about to cry.
“Angie, I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad at me.” He forced a smile to his face. “I promise that I’ll spend all of Christmas with you, okay? And we can count down the New Year together too. That’ll be fun, won’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Angie mumbled.
Rollie checked his watch. “I’d better get going. We’ve got an early call in the morning.” He stood. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Sure, Rollie. Bright and early,” Manny said, concerned for his apprentice, but not wanting to pry. He rose to his feet, as did Angie.
The Aussie put on his coat and scarf and headed out the door, wishing them a goodnight over his shoulder. They heard his car start up and drive away.
“Papa, I want Rollie to have Thanksgiving with us,” Angie said sadly. “It’s going to be no fun at all without him. Why can’t he cancel his other plans?”
“I don’t know, honey. It must be something pretty important.” He took hold of his daughter’s shoulders. “Angie, I don’t want you to keep pestering him about this, you hear me? Rollie gave us his answer, and we’re going to accept it.”
Manny held up a finger. “No, Angie. No buts. That’s final. I don’t want you bringing this up again.”
Angie’s shoulders drooped. Staring down at the floor, she nodded. She then turned and went up the stairs without a word.
Manny sighed softly. He had a feeling that this Thanksgiving wasn’t going to turn out to be a very happy one.
Tuesday seemed to drag on endlessly. Rollie was quiet throughout the day, barely saying more than what was necessary. Several times, Manny noticed the Aussie staring out at nothing, a sad, lonely expression on his face.
When Angie arrived after school, she kept to the agreement and didn’t say anything else about Thanksgiving, but by the way she kept looking at Rollie, often wearing an unhappy expression, Manny knew that his apprentice’s refusal to spend the holiday with them was still upsetting her.
Rollie didn’t go to the loft with them after they wrapped, deciding to go straight back to his apartment instead. Neither of them feeling much like cooking, Manny and Angie got take-out again and ate it in silence.
“Papa, what’s wrong with Rollie?” Angie asked after dinner. “He hardly said anything today, and he looked sad.”
“I don’t know,” Manny replied. “He was that way all day. I know that something’s upsetting him, but he clearly doesn’t want to talk about it.”
Angie sat in silence for a moment, then, “I don’t want to have Thanksgiving this year. I don’t want to have it without Rollie.”
Manny looked at his daughter. “Angie, we can’t just cancel it. People are already planning to come over.”
“I don’t care. It isn’t going to be any fun. Please, Papa. I don’t want to have it.” Tears started up in her eyes.
Manny sighed sadly and nodded. “Okay, Angie Girl. I’ll call everyone and tell them that the dinner’s canceled.
As Manny went to make the phone calls, Angie went up to her room. She got the picture that was of her, Manny, and Rollie, the one she took to remember their first movie together. As if she needed a picture to remember it. She’d met her best friend in the world on the set of Gangster Alley. So many things had happened during the filming of that movie. Throughout those weeks they’d worked on it, she’d come to love Rollie so much. He was a member of the family now. Not only that, but she owed him her life.
Angie wished that she knew what was bothering her friend. She wished even more that there was something she could do or say to make him feel better.
Angie was all dressed for bed when her father came in.
“Everyone’s been called,” he told her. “Of course, they all wanted to know why we were canceling.”
“What did you tell them?”
“I just told them that something came up, and we decided that it would be better not to do the dinner.”
“Papa, maybe we could ask Rollie what his plans for Thursday are and we could go with him.”
Manny shook his head. “I don’t think that would be a good idea, sweetheart. I have a feeling that Rollie isn’t going to feel like company that day. Besides, knowing Rollie, if he finds out that we canceled our Thanksgiving plans because he wasn’t going to be there, he’ll feel pretty bad about it. I think it would be best if we just leave him be.”
Manny tucked his daughter in. Giving her a kiss goodnight, he went back downstairs and sat alone on the couch, thinking about his apprentice and what the young man had come to mean to them. There was no doubt that something was troubling Rollie. Manny wished that the Aussie would open up and talk to him about it, but in this time that they’d known him, Manny had come to realize that Rollie kept a lot to himself. He could be so open and straightforward about some things, but with other things, he was quiet and secretive. Other than the little bit that he’d told them about his childhood, he never talked about his past. Manny recognized this to be an indication of an unhappy childhood or a past with an event too painful to remember. Considering what he did know of Rollie’s past, it seemed that there were many things in it that a person wouldn’t want to remember.
Sighing, Manny got up and retired for the night, hoping that tomorrow would be a better day.
Manny watched his apprentice, more than a little concerned. Rollie had said maybe six words in the last two hours. Though he’d done his work without error, there was no joy on his face as he did it. Even when an elaborate gag they’d set up went off perfectly on the first take, the Aussie had barely even turned up his lips. Manny fervently wished that Rollie would open up and tell him what was upsetting him so. Countless times throughout the morning, Manny had been sorely tempted to go ahead and ask. But he’d kept silent, not wanting to butt in on something that was obviously very personal to the Aussie.
The director announced the lunch break, and everyone went off to find sustenance.
“Come on, Rollie. Let’s go see what Angie fixed for us today,” Manny said, putting on an encouraging smile.
“I’m, uh, not really all that hungry yet, Manny,” Rollie responded. “You go ahead without me. I’ll nibble on something later. I’m going to take a little walk. I’ll be back in a while.” Not waiting for a response, Rollie headed out the stage door.
Manny ate his lunch alone, his own appetite having disappeared along with his apprentice. Choking down the last bite, he took the remaining sandwich back to the van for Rollie to eat later. As he got to the van, he glanced through a window and was surprised to see Rollie inside. His surprise immediately changed to deep worry. The Aussie was sitting in one of the chairs, staring at something in his hand. He was crying. His throat tightening, Manny watched as his apprentice silently wept, tightly clutching whatever it was that he had in his hand. After a few minutes, Rollie wiped the tears from his face. He carefully wrapped the object he had been holding in tissue paper and slipped it into his pocket. Manny had been unable to tell what it was. Realizing that Rollie would be exiting the van soon and not wanting him to know that there had been a witness to his crying, the F/X artist quickly trotted back over to the stage door. He waited until Rollie was leaving the van, then he headed toward it.
“Hey, Rollie. Here’s your sandwich,” he said casually. “I’ll put it in the van so you can get it later when you get hungry.”
“Oh, um . . . thanks,” Rollie responded, looking uncomfortable. Just then, the director’s assistant called for everyone to return to work. Looking a little relieved, Rollie said, “Back to work.”
Manny watched the Aussie’s retreating back for a moment, then stuck the sandwich in the van and followed his apprentice to the set.
“Where’s Rollie?” Angie asked when her father came in the door. She hadn’t gone to the studio today because of Thanksgiving stuff going on at school after class. She hadn’t really wanted to do the stuff at school, but she’d already promised her friends that she’d be there.
“He went home,” Manny replied.
Angie looked at the bag her father was holding. “What’s that?”
Manny sighed. “Rollie’s lunch.”
“He didn’t eat it?” Rollie always ate the lunches she fixed for him.
“No.” Manny put the bag in the refrigerator. To Angie’s eyes, he looked upset.
“Papa, what’s wrong?”
Manny sighed again. “I wish I knew.”
“Is it Rollie?”
“Yeah. He was even worse today, hardly said a word all day. And. . . .”
Manny looked at his daughter, trying to decide if he should tell her what he saw. “During the lunch break, I came upon him in the van,” he finally said. “He was crying.”
“Crying? Rollie was crying?” The thought of her best friend crying made Angie want to cry.
“Yeah. He doesn’t know I saw him, though.”
“Oh, Papa. We need to find out why he was crying. We need to make him feel better.”
“I wish we could, but I don’t think that Rollie wants us to know.”
“I don’t care. He’s my best friend, and best friends are supposed to help each other and be with each other when one of them is sad..”
Manny hugged his daughter tightly. “You are a very good friend to Rollie, sweetheart. I know that he appreciates that.”
“Then we’ll find out what’s wrong and help him?” Angie asked hopefully.
Manny paused. “All right. First thing in the morning, we’ll go over to his place and have a talk with him.”
Angie gave her father a hug. “Thank you, Papa.”
“I just hope that he’ll talk to us.”
It was almost 9 a.m. when Manny and Angie headed over to Rollie’s apartment. As they approached it, however, they both saw the Aussie’s car pull out of the parking lot and head down the street.
“Follow him! Follow him!” Angie cried.
Hesitating only a moment, Manny did as his daughter wanted, being sure to stay far enough back so as not to be spotted. Both Manny and Angie felt a little like detectives following a suspect in the hopes that he’d lead them to the clues needed to solve a mystery.
They were both more than a little puzzled when Rollie stopped at a florist. They were downright shocked when the Aussie came back out a while later carrying the biggest bouquet of carnations that either of them had ever seen. Holding the mass of flowers carefully, the Aussie got back in his car and continued down the street, Manny cautiously following him as they eventually passed out of the city and into a quieter section of New York.
Manny got a sudden leaden feeling in his stomach when the Aussie again pulled over, this time in front of a cemetery. The F/X artist parked his car about half a block from where Rollie had pulled over, then watched as his apprentice entered the graveyard.
“Papa? Why is he here? Who are the flowers for?” Angie asked.
“I don’t know, honey. I . . . I think that maybe we should just let Rollie have his privacy.”
“But we can’t. Please. We can’t let him be alone like that.”
Manny paused for a long moment, then nodded. He also didn’t want Rollie to be alone.
Angie and Manny got out of the car and went to the cemetery. They saw the Aussie weaving among the gravestones. At every marker, he stopped and looked at it. As they watched, he pulled out one of the carnations and place it upon one of the graves. He then moved on to another then another, not leaving flowers at them. He then came to another where he did.
Manny noticed that there were already several carnations placed here and there in the graveyard. He and Angie went to one. It was for a woman named Isabel Samuels. She’d died in 1942 at the age of thirty-two. The next grave with a flower on it was for a Laura Peachtree, who died in 1966. After going to several of the graves, Manny realized that all the ones Rollie had left flowers for had two things in common. They were all the graves of women who had died at a young age, and every last one of them had an epitaph on it that included the word “mother.”
Realizing at last what was going on, the F/X artist looked over at Rollie, who was still moving from stone to stone. Manny thought that he’d never seen a sadder and lonelier looking figure in all his life. As he and Angie continued to watch, the Aussie came to a complete stop in front of one of the gravestones. He stood there just staring at it for a long time, then he got down on his knees and sat before the stone. He leaned his head against it, his arms going round it like he was holding something utterly precious to him. Angie immediately headed for him, Manny only a step behind. As they got near, they heard quiet sobs.
“R-Rollie?” Angie said softly, tears sliding down her face.
The Aussie started and turned, his eyes widening when he saw them. He quickly got to his feet, wiping his face.
“W-what are to doing here?” he asked, his voice full of the tears he had been crying.
“We . . . went over to your place to see how you were,” Manny explained. “We saw you leave and, um, decided to follow you.” He watched as the Aussie flushed and turned his face away. “Rollie, I’m sorry. We had no idea that you were . . . that it was. . . .” Manny trailed off helplessly, not knowing what to say.
There was complete silence for a long time. Then, in barely more than a whisper, Rollie began to speak. “Mum . . . mum died nine years ago today, November 29, 1975. She was thirty-one years old.”
Manny glanced down at the gravestone Rollie had been crying at and saw that the woman buried there died in the same year and was the same age as Rollie’s mother.
“I . . . I c-can’t go to her grave. It’s ten thousand miles away in Australia.” Rollie was crying again, his eyes tightly closed. “So I . . . so I-I go to other graveyards every year and put flowers on the graves of other people's mothers. It’s--” Rollie’s voice broke off abruptly. With a broken sob, he turned and walked away a few paces. Trying desperately not to lose control, he just stood there, his eyes squeezed shut and his arms wrapped tightly about himself. Suddenly, he felt arms go around his waist. He looked down to see Angie, who was looking at him with so much love and understanding that it cracked his heart wide open. Sinking to his knees, Rollie gathered her into his arms, deep, heartbroken sobs shaking his body. Angie just held him, stroking his hair gently.
A long time later, Rollie finally quieted. He drew away from Angie and turned his face to the ground. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to know about this. I’ve ruined your Thanksgiving,” he said in a low voice.
“No you haven’t!” Angie quickly said, her father echoing her words. “We’d rather be with you than any stupid Thanksgiving dinner. We love you.”
Manny stepped forward. “Rollie, please don’t ever think that you need to hide your grief from us. You are a part of our family now, and as family, we want to be there for you at times like this.”
Rollie looked up at Manny, fresh tears shining in his eyes. “Thank you.” He turned his gaze to Angie. “Thank you for being the family I haven’t had in so long.”
Manny went to the pile of carnations that lay on the ground where Rollie had left them. He picked them up and brought them to the Aussie, who was rising to his feet.
“Can we help you with these?” he asked softly.
Startled, Rollie just stared at him for a moment, then slowly nodded, the tiniest of smiles curving his lips.
Without another word, Manny divided the remaining flowers into three bunches, then he, Rollie, and Angie continued through the cemetery, placing flowers to honor the mothers who had died far too young. After the last flower was gone, they all went to the loft. Angie fixed a simple dinner, and they quietly ate it. Afterwards, Rollie sat with Angie on the couch, Manny settling on one of the chairs. The Aussie was still subdued, having said very little during dinner. Angie was trying her best to make him feel better. She was snuggled in close to him, tucked under his arm.
After about five minutes of silence, Rollie gave a soft sigh. “I . . . guess you understand why I couldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving with you. For me, there couldn’t be a Thanksgiving, especially when it falls on the same day as her death, like this year.” He sighed again. “But you shouldn’t have canceled your plans because of me.”
“Rollie, listen to me,” Manny said. “I’m glad that we canceled them. I’m glad that we could be there for you today.
“Me too,” Angie agreed. “And I didn’t want Thanksgiving without you.”
Rollie hugged her more tightly to him, giving her a faint smile.
Making a sudden decision, Manny leaned forward. “Rollie, from now on, Angie and I will go with you every November 29th and put flowers on the graves, just like we did today. It’s time for you to stop doing it alone. And if Thanksgiving happens to fall on that day, then, afterwards, you will share Thanksgiving dinner with us to give thanks for the life that our mothers gave us.”
Rollie gazed at his mentor, tears filling his eyes. “Thank you, Manny. This means more to me than I can ever say.” He looked down at Angie. She was staring down at her lap. Her eyes lifted to her father’s.
“Papa, I want to do this for Mama too.”
Manny stilled, staring at his daughter, his throat starting to ache. He nodded and smiled tenderly. “I think it would make your Mama very happy if we did that.” He turned his gaze to his apprentice. “And we would both want you to be there too, Rollie.”
The Aussie nodded mutely, blinking away his tears.
Later that night, as Rollie sat in his bedroom, he pulled out of his pocket something small and wrapped in tissue paper. Gently, he uncovered it to reveal a cameo, the only thing belonging to his mother that he had. Touching it almost reverently, Rollie thought about what had happened today.
“I wish you were here, Mumma. I miss you every day. I have two new friends in my life. They’re more than friends, though. They’re like family, my family. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to have family that’s always there for you when you need them. I think that you’d like them a lot. They helped me put flowers on the graves today. We’re going to do it together from now on, and we’re going to do it for Angie’s mum too.”
Rising, Rollie took the cameo over to the bureau and placed it in
a box that held all the things that were most precious to him, feeling
the pain and loneliness lift from his heart. He wasn’t alone, not
anymore, and he would never be alone again now that Manny and Angie Ramirez
were in his life. Today, they had given him the best Thanksgiving
he could ever have, a Thanksgiving that showed him in a wonderful way
the strength of friendship and how much he truly had to be thankful for.