The sunlight beamed into my eyes through the tree branches. My bike tires bumped over the cracks in the sidewalk and my heavy backpack pulled down on my shoulders. I knew my way to Granny Hatton’s pretty well. I had studied the map online a couple times.
My mom was the one who had convinced me to go visit Granny. This was after I had made plans to go to the beach. Yes, I protested, but my mom kept persisting, so I agreed to go. And she had also made me reluctantly hand over my phone.
I turned right onto Dorton street, Granny’s street. Pensacola summers were so hot. My brown hair was short but was just long enough to fall in front of my eyes. Annoyed, I brushed it away.
I pulled into Granny's driveway. I parked my bike, shuffled up the front stoop, and knocked on her hollow sounding door. I looked down to my right. A plastic garden gnome with an overly happy face sat holding a mushroom. I gave it a kick because I felt like it was staring at me. At that moment, Granny Hatton opened the door. I quickly retrieved my foot from the gnome, and braced myself for what I knew was coming.
“Jeremy! My favorite grandson, I’m so glad you are here! Mahalo for coming!”
Granny Hatton was of Hawaiian decent, and mom had warned me that it wasn’t abnormal of her to toss a few Hawaiian words into her english. Around 5 inches shorter than me, Granny pulled me into an uncomfortable hug. She stood back.
“Oh my word you’re tall. Ok, come in!” I chuckled nervously and followed Granny. I looked back and glared at the gnome.
As I stepped into the house, an overwhelming smell of some sort of tea washed over me. The large windows let light flood into the house, making it seem wide and welcoming, yet to me it looked finite and boring. Granny motioned for me to have a seat on a grey couch.
“Take a look at the family albums! I’ll make you some Mamaki tea.” I nodded quietly.
That must have been the tea I smelled when I entered the house. How old did Granny think I was? I didn’t drink tea or look at pictures in books. I was 14. Granny walked to the kitchen. Reluctantly I picked up a photo book. I turned the cover, and the spine cracked with age. I bet not even Granny herself had opened these in forever. The first photo was black and white. The photo consisted of some teens posing on a blanket at the beach. They all wore vintage bathing suits. I guessed it was from the 50’s. There was a guy in a fedora standing behind them in mid-bite of an ice cream cone. I chuckled. That guy was the best part. The next photo featured Granny holding a small dog when she was younger. In the background was a man mowing his lawn. He was wearing a fedora, same as the one the man wore in the first picture. Confused, I got up and grabbed a picture frame off the coffee table next to me. It was a candid picture of my grandparents visiting home in Hawaii. I searched the photo. In the far corner of the photo, the same man with the fedora was serving a drink to a woman from behind a bar. I sat the photo back down and viciously flipped through the rest of the photos. In almost every photo and almost every location, it was flat out printed in ink. He was there.
I heard a clank from the kitchen, and the teapot whistling. I jumped. Granny walked slowly out of the kitchen with two teacups in hand.
“I knew you would be interested, Jeremy.” Granny said, and she set the teacups down. “Uh, yeah. The photos are really...intriguing." I finished. I didn’t even know what that word meant, but Granny nodded, so I guessed I had said something that made sense. She handed me my tea and took the photo book. "That's me, that's grandad.” Granny said quietly as she pointed to two of the kids in the bathing suit photo. There was silence afterwards. “I miss those days,” Granny said. Then silence. “Who is this man?” I asked, pointing to the guy with the ice cream cone. Granny peered at the picture, squinting her eyes. Granny blinked and sat up straight. “I do not recognize him, my grandson.” I flipped the page. “But he’s in this picture too.” I showed her the gas station photo. Granny looked perplexed. “I've never noticed him before.”
Granny made a little shrug and closed the book. I looked down at my tea suspiciously, then took a sip of the brown, curious looking liquid.
“Did you take a look at this one?” She picked up the photo of her and grandad in Hawaii. As she admired it, I spit my sip of tea back into the cup. It tasted like dirt with sugar and water. Granny looked up at me. I smiled innocently at her in hopes that she had not seen me. “Uh, yes! I also noticed that man in the background.” I pointed to the man in the fedora behind the bar. “Jeremy, honestly I have never seen him. It’s probably not the same man.” I pointed at the fedora. “But the fedora!” Granny chuckled and shook her head. “Lots of people have fedoras.” “But doesn’t it seem like a coincidence?” Granny put her hand on my shoulder. “Nonsense. There are no coincidences, Jer, only divine encounters.” My eyebrows furrowed. “I have no idea what that means.” Granny set the photo down. “You’ll learn one day.” I stood up and watched as she took a sip of her own tea. I wondered why Granny Hatton wasn’t more interested in what I had shown her. Did she really believe what I was telling her was nonsense? Granny stood up. “How about you take your bag to your room and I'll make dinner?” Granny reached for my empty teacup. I handed it to her uncertainly. “Sure,” I said, then I turned and found my way to the guest room. I threw my backpack onto the bed and sat down. The old springs creaked with age. My mind again wandered to the man in the fedora.
It didn’t seem but 15 minutes when Granny called me to dinner. I walked through the house to the kitchen. There was Granny, setting two bowls on the table.
The Poke bowls were odd, but satisfying. We were quiet until the meal was about halfway through, and Granny cleared her throat.
“Jeremy, I was hoping you may stay with me through the weekend?” I stopped chewing my food. Mom would be disappointed in me for saying this, but I didn’t want to stay.
“Granny, I’m not sure-” “We could make it fun. Where do you want to go?” I looked around the kitchen, not making eye contact with her. “I kind of wanted to go to the beach tomorrow.” I made the suggestion as to help her realize that I already had plans, but it didn't work. “I’ll take you! It’s not far.” Granny pushed her bowl away and stood up. “It’ll be fun, grandson!” I looked at her without answering.
She was kinda lonely. “Ok,” I agreed. Granny grinned. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the beach! Thank you, this is such a treat.” Granny took my empty Poke bowl. “I knew you’d like this.” She pointed to my bowl. I nodded vigorously.
Soon after I heard the sink running and Granny humming. I got up from my seat at the table, then slipped out into the living room. I sat down then picked up a photo book different than earlier. Again, almost every photo had the man with the fedora in it. I tried to look for similarities in the photos. In this photo, Grandad was building his and Granny’s first house. It looked as if he was leveling the roof. But there were no others in the picture. No man with a fedora, no anybody. I looked again. Just grandad. I turned another page. This photo was of Granny, my older sister Olive and I sitting on a park bench. I spotted that fedora right away. On a bench behind us sat a man with the fedora. I shut the book. Was he a stalker? For some reason stalking Granny? How had I never noticed him? I was at the park the same time he was, obviously. I had to watch out for him.
“Jeremy!” Granny cried from the kitchen. “Yes?” I jumped from the couch and ran to the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” I halted at the kitchen door. Granny was wiping the counter down. I let out a great breath that I had been holding. She was fine. I was just paranoid.
“Just wanted to say goodnight. It’s getting late and I am tired.” Granny set the rag down. “Oh, yeah. Good night, Granny.” I ran my fingers though my hair. I guess I was kind of tired. “Hope that room is warm enough for you.” "Thanks," I nodded and looked at the clock on the wall. It was 8:30 pm. I sighed, and walked to my room.
I closed the door and fell onto the bed. I guess Granny was ok, a little different, but ok. I sighed and thought of the man in the fedora. I pondered over every possibility. Finally my mind just ceased to think, so I closed my eyes.
The next thing I knew, it was morning.
I sat up and blinked, then I heaved myself out of bed and walked to the kitchen. It was quiet. When I entered the kitchen, I was suddenly hit with a granola bar! I caught it, laughing. “Now, time for us to get moving! Get your swimsuit and lets go.” Granny stood up slowly, walked to the sink and tossed her clean breakfast plate into it. I leaned on the door frame. “Wow, quick breakfast. Are you sure you still want to go?” Granny turned to me. “Why not?” She asked. I shrugged and ran to get ready.
In due time we were in the car and on the road.
As our drive lengthened, Granny talked more and more. It was hard to focus because I kept looking out the window for fedora man.
A river ran along the right side of the paved road, deep and dark. The palm trees’ leaves started to whip around in a frenzy. Clouds started to draw overhead.
“Granny, I think it's gonna rain.” I leaned forward and looked through the windshield. “I bet you it’ll pass right over us.” Granny smiled. At that moment, large droplets of water started to drench the land. “Look at that, you were right!” Granny slowed down. “I'm sorry Jer.” Granny shook her head disappointedly, making her dark silvery curls shake. “It’s alright.” I said quietly. Granny turned on the windshield wipers. “We’d better turn around.” I told Granny with worry in my voice. Pensacola rains were no joke. “There’s a little driveway up here we can turn ourselves around in.” Granny squinted though her rain covered windshield.
The rain started to get so thick that it was hard to see. The roads had started to flood. Granny kept a steady speed as she searched for the driveway. I sat back in my seat, tapping my foot nervously. The waters were rising. As we continued to drive, I spotted a couple lights and a bridge over the river ahead. “The driveway should be right up here on the left.” Granny’s said shakily. She pressed the brake. All of the sudden I heard Granny moan. “What Granny?” I asked quickly. “The brakes!” Granny slammed on the brakes over and over. We started to slide. Our speed started to pick up. “Granny?” I cried over the shattering sound of the rain bucketing down. “We’re hydroplaning!” I grabbed my door handle and closed my eyes. “I know! I know! Jeremy, hold on!” Granny screamed.
The car skidded to the edge of the incline that sloped straight down to the river. We hit the edge and the car jolted upwards, then crashed back down and rolled down the incline. I couldn’t even scream. I just gripped my locked seatbelt as I tried to think fast. The car plunged into the deep, rising river with a deathly impact. I blacked out.
The next few moments were very surreal as I became conscious again. I remember the water flooding into the car through a huge slice in my door. I looked down to my feet and realized that blood flowed from my right ankle. The pain shot up my leg. I unbuckled myself. I looked over at Granny. She was unconscious and her head was bleeding. I pushed her buckle, but no release. I hit the buckle over and over, but still nothing happened. I frantically looked around for anything to cut the belt. Nothing I tried worked. I could see the water starting to rise past the window. I could not leave Granny. Tears started to come as I frantically tried to release the old woman I had come to love. With disgust I threw myself down in my seat, and panic started to set in. The water was to my midsection. All I was focused on was getting Granny out. I tried to break my window so maybe I could use glass to cut the belt. I threw my shoulder into the window, and I battered it with all I could. How could I not even break a car window? Exhausted and hurting, I stopped myself from beating the window. My whole body was shaking. I jerked and pulled Granny’s belt, but I had no more strength. I held her head up and peered out into the water and accepted my destiny. I screamed when I saw Granny’s head go underwater. There was nothing I could do, and now I couldn’t get out. There was about 5 inches of air still at the top of the car. I swam to the top and took one last breath.
I dove under the water and watched as debris rushed past us. I saw something big moving towards us through the dark water. Suddenly, Granny’s door was opened and a man with a knife cut her seatbelt. I couldn’t see his face, the water was too clouded. The man waved me to follow him out Granny’s way. He lifted Granny, who was still unconscious, out of the car and swam to the surface with her.
The shock from being trapped in a sinking car caused the situation to become very phantasmagorical. I remember being pulled onto the bank. As I laid on the grass, my eyes blinked open, and from a sideways view I saw the strange dark man giving Granny Hatton CPR. I could hardly comprehend the fact I was alive. I again, blacked out.
The next time I opened my eyes, I was overwhelmed with bright white light. I was in a hospital room. No one was in there with me. My ankle was elevated and in a red cast, and my arm was in a sling. I must have had dislocated it. I heard footsteps headed towards my room. The door opened and my family walked in.
“Jeremy!” My mom cried. “We knew you’d be awake by now!” My dad walked to my bedside. My mom patted my good leg. “You were out for two days, Jer! I brought you your phone.” My 17 year old sister Olive handed me my iPhone. I smiled. Mom sniffed. “Honey, what happened?” So I told them the whole hydroplane story. After I finished, mom handed me a newspaper. The front page headline was-
UNIDENTIFIED MAN SAVES OLD WOMAN AND BOY FROM SINKING CAR
The front page picture was of me and Granny laying on the riverbank with the dark strange man hovering over us, helping us. The picture was probably taken by someone crossing over the bridge. I looked closely at the man. He looked different somehow. Then I realized. He was wearing the fedora.
“Take me to Granny! I need to get to her!” I sat up. “Whoa! Jeremy, calm down!” Dad gently pushed me back to a laying position. “You don’t understand, I need to see Granny.” I shrugged off his hand. “Jeremy, you can’t go see Granny right now.” Mom said slowly. “Why? Is she ok?” My thoughts flashed back to the blood on Granny’s forehead when we were in the car. “She’s not responding very well.” "I can move around! I have a wheelchair. Please take me to her.” Mom and dad shared glances of worry, but nodded at each other. “Yes, thank you.” I whispered. They transported me to a wheelchair. I held onto the newspaper the whole time. They took me to room 333. Mom pushed open the door. Granny had a nurse leaning over her. Her head was heavily bandaged and she was hooked up to some tubes and wires. The sight made me swallow and blink back my tears. Olive pushed me to Granny’s bedside then left with mom and dad. I looked onto Granny’s pale expressionless face. “Granny,” I whispered. I touched her arm. “Guess what? I found fedora man.” I held up the newspaper for her to see, even though her eyes weren’t open. “You can't not respond. I found him. Fedora man.” My voice broke. I laid over Granny and watched her chest rise and fall as she took her breaths. I noticed they started to come faster. Granny’s eyes opened, and she smiled when she saw me. “So you did.” Granny paused. “Coincidence, Jer?” She stroked my hair. “My guardian angel.” Granny whispered. The realization only brought two words to my mind. My eyes widened and I replied, “Divine encounter.”