“Welcome back Arlan, getting good use of those frequent flyer points like always,” greeted the attendant with a pleasant smile as the older gentleman checked onto his flight.
He returned her smile as he placed his boarding pass back into his coat pocket, “Even at my age, my job has me traveling all over the place. This is the one trip I really do enjoy taking,” Arlan picked up his bag, “Stay safe out there.”
After a long flight and cramped taxi ride, Arlan stretched as he reached his winter home. Though it wasn’t much of a change from Ireland, hell on some days it was colder, and with a lot more snow. He wouldn’t be here long however, the memories and the regrets began to pile on as soon as he opened the door. The weight of the world seemed to crash onto his broad shoulders before Arlan shook them off by quickly grabbing his necessities and allowed his Gran Torino to warm up.
By the time the old engine was ready to go, Arlan found himself staring at the collection of photos of his family. He looked down at the rings set in front of his wedding photo. Arlan looked down at the only ring he wore now, its blue stone was still so vibrant even in the 50 years it was crafted. “If only my life would shine as brightly as you,” His large hands reached out to touch the rings but pulled back before even making contact.
Arlan closed and locked the door, he knew he would have to drop by one last time in order to drop off his car but until his grandson moved out there was no way he would trust leaving it with Caleb until then.
After another few hours of travel, Arlan picked up his grandson, the last light of his life and his greatest regret. As he approached, he noticed the twisted shape of hate that called itself his son, Dunn. Auryn...why him? Why did you choose him to watch over Caleb? There is no trace of your younger brother. Arlan’s eyes, a similar color to the stone on his ring, while Dunn carried not a single trace of his lineage. His index finger reached into his pocket, tracing a small box before pulling out his car keys.
The trip to Caleb's hometown was pleasant enough, especially since Arlan avoided the crowded interstate, preferring the scenic route, even if it added an extra to his trip.
He had Caleb drive them over to a local pizzeria, a place frequented by his grandson regularly. They were seated quickly and while his grandson ordered the meal, Auryn ordered a pint of beer, not expecting much from it.
Caleb eyed his grandfather, a man who stood leagues above everyone he knew. He wanted to speak up and ask the questions he always asked but he knew the answer. Be patient. Caleb took a deep breath and sat up straight, slowly letting the stress of home life slip off. His shoulders and spine cracked as he stretched himself. "Grandpa...why?" Their eyes met, and while Arlan could see Auryn in Caleb, their personalities were so different in their expressions alone. Caleb carried weight far too heavy for any man his age should hold on it. It was evident in the bags under his eyes and the sunken look to his cheeks.
The older man set down a pint of weak beer and wiped the foam from his mustache, “That is what the will said and it makes sense, Caleb. Your mother and father understood stability matters most for a child growing up. With my research, I can’t stay put. As for why your uncle...I don’t know. Your father was the type to always try to see the good in people. He might have been hoping that maybe by taking care of you, Dunn would’ve put his tendencies behind him. If it were me, I would’ve preferred your mother’s side of the family, at least that way you would’ve learned Spanish,” He paused “But none live in the states as far as I know.” That lie went down smooth like whiskey, especially after telling it for the better part of a decade. Arlan would've preferred sending Caleb to another country rather than leave him here with the walking cesspool that called itself Dunn.
The young man closed his eyes and tried to picture his parents but all he could bring to mind was the photo of him as a baby. He wished that he could've lived with his grandfather, especially those initial years Dunn made claim to his father’s home. Even at 16, he wanted to be selfish, he wanted to beg and cry, to try to get his way, but he had to bite his tongue. Unlike when he was younger, he grew out of trying to get his way but that part of him still lingered in his mind. The desire to be selfish and to control his own life was still burning. Two more years...just two more...he thought to himself
An older gentleman came out with a tray of wings, “Arlan, me da gusto verte,” He ruffled Caleb’s hair, to the boy’s dismay as he tried dodging the gnarled hands of the owner, “Happy Birthday, Caleb.” he said before taking a seat next Caleb’s grandfather. The two older gentlemen began talking amongst themselves as Caleb ate his birthday dinner, all the while his cell phone was silent, no calls or messages. Cain, the one person aside from his grandfather, Caleb trusted. The memories were still fresh in the young man’s mind, as were the wounds. Caleb’s fingers traced over the discolored scars on his knuckles. Tears threatened to spill from him as he pushed the memories back.
Arlan noticed his grandson’s mood souring. Quietly, he pulled out a small box and handed it to Caleb. The owner paused in his conversation wondering what the old gringo had slipped the sullen young man that so often came by himself. He knew the boy’s reputation but Caleb was nothing but polite, at least with him and his staff.
Caleb looked curiously at the box. It was a simple wooden box, with a small tag that read “Happy 16th birthday, Caleb.” Slowly Caleb slipped off the lid and it revealed a silver ring with a black stone on its face. Caleb looked at it carefully before recognizing it. “It’s dad’s ring?”
“Close,” Arlan removed the one he was wearing, revealing a similar ring instead with a blue stone, “We each have our own.” And we each have a responsibility. “Be sure to keep it safe.”
Caleb slipped the ring on, it was a perfect fit. “Thanks, Gramps.” Something seemed to click in his head as his eyes locked onto the black stone. He glanced over at his grandfather’s ring, noticing it matched his grandfather’s eyes.
The shop owner’s eyes gauged the young man’s reaction at receiving the gift. “Not what I would expect,” Then his gaze met Caleb’s, “Most chamacos want a car or a new phone, not a ring.”
Arlan chuckled, “Well Hector, it's a tradition for my family, the heirs receive this kind of ring.” Arlan flashed his ring,. “Usually we wait, but…” Arlan left it at that. The rings were the same aside from the stones at their face.
“You gringos are weird,” Arlan shrugged before Hector rose from his seat. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, “But you’re a good kid, Caleb. If you can ever help out around the shop, give me a call.”
Caleb gently took the card into his hands, “Thank you...Gracias,”
Hector grinned, Looks like he isn’t hopeless after all, he understood Caleb needed just a chance. “Help me out and I’ll teach you Spanish...mejor que los escuelas,” Caleb chuckled, understanding what Hector said as a large pizza graced their table.
It wasn’t too long after Hector returned to the kitchen that Arlan paid the bill and the two left. The pair had devoured their lunch and left with full bellies. Even though it was still early in the day, it wasn’t going to get much warmer, but it wasn’t too terrible; no biting winds, no cloud cover. The tail end of winter, spring was right around the corner.
“That ring is important Caleb like I mentioned before, heirs of the family are the only ones that will hold that ring. Your uncle, your cousins, no one else other than you should hold on to that ring.”
“What do they do?” Caleb raised an eyebrow as he questioned Arlan.
“A lot...for right now I can say that they’re a key. Look into some of your father’s things.” Caleb hopped back into the driver’s seat of the Gran Torino and the two spent a long day away from home. It wasn’t until dusk Caleb returned home, only to find it empty. Arlan walked inside and scratched his chin, “A mess like always…” Caleb only sighed, “They usually leave on the weekends after breakfast or lunch.” Arlan dug out a key for the master bedroom after finding the secret slot in an old cabinet, “Uncle knows better than to mess with any of the original decor or anything else really, despite his protesting and posturing.”
“You sound like your grandma,” Arlan joked as he found an old bottle of whiskey, “Ah ha...jackpot,” Caleb rolled his eyes, “I forgot where I left it after the last time I was here.”
“No one here likes that stuff, Grandpa. And I’m still 5 years too young to even try.”
“Dunn takes after your grandma, it makes sense he is a half weight, lad.” Arlan began enjoying the whiskey after prepping himself a glass, “If ya decide to follow me, ya can drink at 18, yer part Irish, no matter how diluted. ” Arlan's accent began slip as he questioned Caleb, "What do ya plan on doin'? After all this? Goin' to school right? Got any interests?"
“Archaeology...I mean it does interest me," Caleb knew very little about the field but considering it was what both grandfather and father studied in he felt inclined to continue the tradition, "but I need to go to college for that,” Arlan nodded, “Well, my counselor...said college isn’t in the cards due to my grades. She said even if I improved, scholarships are outta the question.”
“She can shove it where the sun don’t shine,” Arlan growled back, “Ya decide what ya do, Caleb. Even if things are hard, it is all about doin’ yer best.” Arlan took another deep sip from his glass, finishing it off, and then poured himself another.
There we go, here comes the accent thick as ever, Caleb thought as his grandfather began a rant against the school in between gulping down drink after drink. That was Arlan’s weakness, but unlike his uncle, in this state, he just let spill his feelings. Caleb engaged him the best he could until Arlan tuckered himself out.
Once his grandfather was asleep, Caleb found himself in the attic, a hiding space unknown to his uncle and grandfather. He figured his father meant it as a place to hide the most sensitive of belongings away from either Dunn or any intruders.
There were piles of locked boxes, each with a strange lock on it. Amongst the boxes was a small chest with the same type of lock and a note with faded writing, “Me first,” it read as Caleb cleaned the dust off it. Like his grandfather said, his new ring was a key. It worked similarly to a combination lock, and Caleb had more than enough experience unlocking those through sound alone. Through slow methodical turning, Caleb caught the clicking. It was trial and error but once he found the pattern, the lock gave way.
Once unlocked, Caleb found an old laptop. The old beast roared and whirled to life, albeit slowly. Same as the note, there were files listed in the intended reading order, “Well, shit…” with that Caleb began to read. And with that, the wheels of fate began to turn faster.