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Dark, wispy clouds shrouded the moon and the light drizzle made way to large raindrops pelting the sand and ocean. Most of the vacationers at Rehoboth Beach were inside hoping for better weather tomorrow. But a father and his daughter were on the beach hoping to see one last glimpse of dolphins jumping out of the water before heading back inside.

An old pale man wearing a tailored dark blue three-piece suit, and a Fedora with a feather pinned on its side, sat cross-legged on the beach as the waves crashed around him. His cap toe shoes crafted in Italy took the full brunt of the waves. The tide rose soaking his silk socks and pants. Frothy sea foam covered the bottom of his jacket. He stared out to sea oblivious to anyone around him.

Eight-year-old Julia tugged at her father’s hand wanting to see the man. “Why’s he just sitting there getting soaked?”

Julia’s father frowned and drew his daughter closer to him.

“Is he hurt, Daddy?” Julia asked staring at the man. “I bet he’s sad again? He’s sad a lot.”

“Do you know him, sweetie?”

“Oh, yeah. We talk all the time—in my dreams and when no one else is around.”

The old man turned toward the little girl and waved. He grabbed the edge of his fedora and nodded.

Julia cringed as she stared at the old man’s long, bony fingers with red painted nails so long they curled around like a unicorn’s horn. “I thought you said you weren’t gonna grow out your nails and paint them red.”

“I wanted to see if I could get used to…”

Julia’s father pulled her behind him, and interrupted the man. “How do you know my daughter?”

The old man just smiled.

“I told you, Daddy. He’s in my dreams. He’s not out in the open much. I’m surprised you can see him too.”

“I want to hear from him, sweetie.” He glared at the old man. “Again, how do you know my daughter?”

The old man turned his gaze back to the ocean.

Julia’s father took a step toward the old man. “I’m waiting for an answer.”

The old man turned around. “Your daughter is right. I visit her mostly in her dreams. Every now and then when she’s alone or sad.”

“Nothing bad ever happens when I’m with him, Daddy. We just talk about stuff.” She leaned in to her father. “He’s had it rough. He doesn’t think anyone wants him.”

“What do you mean,” her father whispered.

Julia pointed up. “He thinks he’s not good enough to be up there.” She pointed down. “And not bad enough to be down there. He’s stuck.”

The old man smiled at Julia’s father. “Your daughter’s special, Jack.”

Julia’s father looked wide-eyed at the old man. “How do you know my name?”

“It’s a shame you don’t remember me, Jack. We used to talk all the time when you were young. I guess you still have some of the child in you or else you couldn’t see me now.”

“Who are you? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I never spoke with you when I was a kid.”

“Forget about it, Jack. I’m telling you your daughter is special. She sees people for who they are on the inside, not what they do.”

Jack pointed at the man. “You stay away from Julia, you hear me?”

“If she wants me to, I will. But you don’t have any say in it.”

Jack let go of Julia’s hand and ran over to the man and took a swing at him. It went right through him.

The man laughed. “Come on. You think you could hurt me, Jack? It doesn’t work that way. Julia has the final say about whether I stay or go, not you.”

“Leave her alone, or I’ll find someone who will…remove you.”

Julia stomped her foot. “Both of you stop fighting. Frederick, why are you out here sitting in the water? You can tell me.”

“His name is Frederick?” Jack asked.

“Daddy, please. Let him talk.”

The old man sighed. “I have a decision to make, Julia. I either do bad things and feel bad about it, or do good things, but feel bad because I’m not good enough to be up there with the good ones. That’s why I grew my nails out and painted them red. I wanted to see how it felt to be more on the dark side.”

Julia started to put her hand on Frederick’s shoulder, but her father pulled it away. “It’s okay, Daddy.”

Frederick’s eyes welled up as he looked at Julia. “I’m not strong enough for either side, Julia. You’re the only person who knows me well enough to understand.”

Julia furrowed her brow and put her hands on her hips. “Frederick, we’ve talked about this before. You’re a much better person than you think. Otherwise you would have gone to…you know where…a long time ago.”

“I have been good to you, haven’t I?”

“Of course, you have. Who whispers in my ear not to watch a TV show that may be too scary for me? Who wipes away my tears when I’ve had bad dreams? You do, Frederick. You’re good. You’re the only one who doesn’t believe it.”

“Thank you, Julia. You’re a good great, great, great granddaughter.”

Jack’s jaw dropped. “You’re my great, great grandfather, Frederick MacKenzie?”

“Aye, I am.”

Julia smiled. “Guess we’re all related, Daddy. Then she scrunched her nose, and pointed at Frederick. “Now, get rid of those crazy nails and red polish, and go around doing good for other people—not just me. Better yet, go toward the light. Go have fun. You deserve it.”

Frederick gave a big toothy smile to Julia. “I think I’m ready to have fun again. It’s been a long time, but I’ll try. I promise.”

Jack walked over and stood in front of Frederick. “Were you telling me the truth about us talking when I was a kid?”

“Aye. You were a fun kid. We used to talk when you’d go down to the river and skip rocks.”

Jack nodded. “I remember you now.”

Frederick tilted his head. “What happened? You stopped seeing me and I couldn’t get through.”

Jack shrugged. “I don’t know. Life happened I guess, and I grew out of it.”

Frederick put his hand on Jack’s shoulder. “You can choose not to grow out of it if you wish, Jack. Let your inner child come out more. Not just when you’re at the beach with Julia. Don’t turn into someone like me. Be more like your daughter.”

Jack nodded. “I’ll do my best.”

“You and me too.” Frederick knelt down in front of Julia. “Thanks for giving me the push I needed. I’m ready now.”

Julia gave Frederick a thumbs up. “You got it, Frederick. See you in my dreams.” 

August 17, 2019 00:13

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