Aunt Amy Knows Best
Being old isn't so bad. I've had a long, relatively healthy life, always more money than I needed, and the journey has been a pleasant one. Now there's just one thing left to do.
You see, we never had children, Albert and I, although we had wanted them. He'd been an only child and was often lonely growing up. I was one of five and knew the love of a large family. It seemed cruel of God to deny us one of our own, but His way is His way. What can be done?
Instead, I showered my love upon my nieces and nephews, especially little Napoleon. It was a mean trick to call a child that, but Napoleon never seemed to mind. From the first time Katherine placed him in my arms and I looked into those big brown eyes and stroked that sable soft hair, I was hopelessly in love with him.
Napoleon was always my favorite, even though I tried to not let the others know. Out of all the children, he was the first one to get into trouble and the first one to get out of it. He could sweet talk his way out of a predicament faster than a hot knife could cut through butter, and make you love him while doing it.
Napoleon was also the first to visit a sick friend and bring flowers to you when you were feeling blue. He read quietly for hours and sometimes he would just sit. You could tell he was deep in thought even when he was only a toddler.
As he grew, he learned to make the most of his gifts. He'd see me and purr, "Hello, sweetheart, how's tricks?" That devil stole that from his Uncle Albert. It got me every time, especially after Albert had his stroke and I was alone.
After Albert died prematurely, I rattled around in our big old house—the one that had once been so full of hopes and dreams. I wasn't happy, but this was home. And honestly, I lacked the courage to leave.
It wasn't exactly because Napoleon moved to New York that I followed a few years later. He'd gone into the military after his wife, the poor little thing, died and he came back a different man. He didn't laugh and joke the way he had. He dated, but he chewed through women the way Albert used to chew through tobacco.
Napoleon tried to settle on the farm, but he was so restless. He moved to New York to take a job and before you knew it, he talked me into visiting him. No one else could have made me budge, but this was Napoleon. So, I packed a suitcase, climbed on board the train and for the first time in my life, I left Vermont. In doing so, I rediscovered life.
I loved the excitement of the city, the constant thrum of people and activity. Albert had left me very well off, and to be honest, I was pretty good at playing the stock market. Money was never a problem for me, so I found myself a place that satisfied me and moved in. I liked that the doorman kept out the riff raff, along with my more annoying relatives—the ones who always wanted me to loan them money—and while I liked to do a bit of cooking and cleaning, it was nice to have people to attend to that when I didn't feel like it.
Strangely enough, I didn't see Napoleon much more in New York than when I was back in Vermont. He was always on the move, always either coming or going to exotic places. He'd send me post cards, bring me small gifts and I had an entire wall just dedicated to those presents. Then that wasn't enough and again I gathered my courage and I started to wander the globe. I saw so many wonders and such exotic places. I met fabulously interesting people and had my share of adventures... some I didn't even share with Napoleon. He'd never believe his old auntie could ever be involved with smugglers or pirates.
I would lavish gifts upon my favorite nephew, a new car, new clothes, but there was one thing I couldn't give him; it was the one thing I wanted him to have more than anything else in the world—a companion. He needed someone who would share his burden, lto augh and cry with him. He'd lost that when he'd lost Joyce. He would always bring someone with him for dinner on those special days, but I could tell she was just a placeholder and nowhere near his heart.
Still, we did make it a habit to try and spend holidays together, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. Then one year I placed my usual call to his home and to my great surprise, he answered. Napoleon was never home. I could hear a voice in the background, but it was male and I dismissed it as the TV.
"Napoleon, my dear nephew, why haven't you been visiting your poor decrepit auntie?" I gave him my usual greeting. "I feel quite unloved these days."
"Hello, sweetheart, how's tricks?" It was his standard response and I could feel his smile through the phone line. It went right through me, warming me as it rocketed from my nose to my toes. Suddenly, my waist seemed a little thinner, my hair more full and luxurious, my body young again. He was such magic, that devil.
"Just tell me that you are coming to Thanksgiving dinner and I will forgive you." I held my breath, hoping this was not going to be one of 'those' years.
"You just tell me when and where, dear, and I'm there."
"You know both—come early and we can watch the parade off the balcony." I had a front row seat to The Macy's Day Parade. Most of the time, he arrived just as I was ready to sit down to dinner and dashed away right after, citing this or that reason.
"I can do that." There was a hesitation. "Aunt Amy, may I bring a friend?" He always asked, so considerate, my dear nephew.
"Of course. What's her name?"
"His name is Illya."
"Illya Nichovetch Kuryakin—he's Russian. This is his first Thanksgiving. I'd like to make it special for him." He mumbled something, his hand must have been over the receiver at that point. How odd.
That's my sweet boy, of course. He was always so considerate of others. "Of course, that's fine. You can both bring dates if you'd like."
"Illya... he doesn't date much and I'm sort of between girls right now."
I laughed. I could just imagine the trouble he was in if that was the case. "Hell's bells, Napoleon Solo, you are quite the devil, you know."
"Yes, but I'm your devil, dear."
For a few bad moments, I was afraid he wouldn't make it for the weather was so bad that day. They had even talked about calling off the parade. Then I heard his familiar rap on the door. How I rushed to meet him that snowy morning. Napoleon didn't even take off his overcoat; he just swung those arms open and folded me inside them, wrapping his arms and coat around me. Oh, he smelled so good, spicy from his aftershave and crisp from the chilled November air. His lips were soft as he kissed my cheek and his eyes... oh, my Napoleon has such lovely eyes... so much like Albert's in a strange way.
And then I turned around and fell into a pool of the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. I'd been expecting a great bear of a man, all wild black hair and loud booming voice, dressed in typical Cossack clothes and wearing a tall fur hat. Instead, there was this smallish thin man with a ready smile and this thatch of blond, blond hair. He was dressed in a suit that was just a bit past its prime, but you could tell it was taken care of and clean.
He clicked his heels and bowed to me, kissing my hand with a practiced air. His hand was warm, but rough. He was obviously a man who worked very hard at life and yet he didn't seem to bear it any grudge.
"Don't pay any attention to him, Aunt Amy. He does that to anyone who will feed him." Napoleon was taking off his overcoat to reveal a light orange cashmere pullover over brown slacks and lovely hand-tooled Italian loafers. Not exactly footwear for a slushy November morning, but that was Napoleon. No matter the situation, he was always put together
"How are you?" I spoke slowly, just in case and Napoleon laughed.
"It's okay, dear, he speaks English... sort of." Napoleon slapped Illya on the shoulder and chuckled.
"Actually, I have no issues with English whatsoever. It's rather the nuances that make the confusing version of it called American that I am struggling with." He grinned back at Napoleon—it was obviously an inside joke.
Illya's eyes grew large at the Macy's balloons and he acted just like a young boy. I couldn't imagine what kind of childhood he had, but Napoleon hinted that it wasn't a pleasant one. Illya seemed genuinely puzzled when he asked about the military presence in the parade and Napoleon explained that there was none. It was just the bands, the floats, the balloons, and of course Santa Claus heralding the start of the Christmas season.
"How many others are joining us?" Illya asked, looking around my dining room. Napoleon had already pointed out that it was larger than Illya's entire apartment.
"Just us, old man."
"All this food... for just the three of us?"
"Yes, don't you think it will be enough?"
"Only the three of us?"
"Yup, Aunt Amy knows how to lay out a spread."
I did, indeed, and I watched with pride as Napoleon explained how to properly carve a turkey, then offered the carving knife and fork to Illya. It was a little disquieting how good the two of them were with knives. And Illya ate like he'd never had enough food in his life or ever would again.
Afterwards, they washed up, even though they didn't have to. They laughed and joked, side by side while I sat and listened. We played a little gin rummy and I prayed the day would never end for any of us. We all seemed so happy. The boys kidded, they joked and they truly enjoyed just being with each other. Right then and there, I knew it. There was something between those two, a spark, a shared journey, even if they weren't aware of it yet.
We talked long into the night and I'm afraid we all had a bit too much to drink. When it came time to leave, I wouldn't let them. Instead I tucked them into the guest room and went to bed content and my heart full.
As it turned out, it wasn't happiness making my heart glow, it was heartburn. I got up to get some medicine and decided to look in on the boys. There they were spooned up together and Napoleon's arm was draped protectively over Illya's waist. Illya's arm covered the limb and they both looked so peaceful. Perhaps in sleep, they were able to admit what neither of them could speak of in the light of day. That made me a little sad, but I knew it was the decision the world thrust upon them.
The years tumbled by as they so often do, the months speeding by until it seemed the year started and ended the same week. And through it all, Napoleon and Illya stayed together, two old confirmed bachelors who liked nothing more than to sit around giving each other a bad time.
It was only right that the doctors called Napoleon when it was my time. The rest of the family, we'd grown apart while Napoleon and I had grown closer through the years. He was my family now and I yet wasn't at all surprised to see him finally arrive with Illya in tow. Illya stopped at the hospital room door and let Napoleon come to me alone. Solo, it seemed only right.
"Hello, sweetheart, how's tricks?"
I smiled, almost too weak to talk, but I still wanted him to know how much I appreciated his being there. It was getting harder and harder to stay awake, but I'd been determined to see him one last time.
"Ignoring me so," I whispered as he kissed my cheek. He looked so old now, gray dotting his temples, laugh lines deepening, worry now creasing his brow.
"Well, you know how it is, dear."
I did, indeed, and knowing he was there, I relaxed, and felt myself drifting pleasantly along, comfortable and secure with Napoleon so close.
Then I was looking down at my body, a decidedly odd sensation. I heard that annoying heart monitor suddenly give one long beep. I watched Napoleon sigh, and bend to kiss my forehead before snapping off the machine.
I was trying to decide what to do about all of this when Napoleon covered his face with one hand and started to cry. Instantly I wanted to be with him, to comfort him. I felt myself being pulled back into my body. It wasn't what I wanted and yet, I couldn't leave Napoleon, not like this, so decimated and broken.
Then Illya was at Napoleon's side and he quietly, but firmly pulled Napoleon into his arms and held him close. I couldn't hear what Illya was saying to my nephew, but instinctively I knew the words were soft, understanding, and loving. And I realized it was all right. I could leave now. Napoleon had someone to take care of him and watch out for him. Napoleon had Illya to love him and he loved Illya right back. It wasn't exactly the way I thought it was going to play out, but who am I to question God's Will?
I watched them for a moment more and then saw Albert, as young and as handsome as the day we'd met and that's when I realized I was young and beautiful again. So off I went to be with my very desirable husband, knowing that I was leaving Napoleon's heart in kind and capable hands. What was it Shakespeare said? All's well that ends well. I think it sums this up very nicely. And to my way of thinking, this is a very happy ending indeed.