She got to know him in her teens. Until then, he was the tyrant of her summer holidays. Use the fork. Don't pick at your food. Sit straight: you'll get a hunch. She used to dread visiting him, not knowing when the next reprimand would fly at her. She was little, single-digit age group, and understood softer words (and toys!) better.
Reprimand? Or was it affection? Just that he couldn't express himself, tell her in so many words how much he loved her?
One evening, she was to drive down to meet him, a good four hours away from her home. She was late, the result of an event at her management school. She was flooded with endless calls en route, where he'd enquire, gruff-voiced: Where are you? It's late. Don't you have any concern at all for me? She reached his home to find him waiting up for her, at the ungodly hour of 1:00 a.m., with her favourite coffee blend bubbling away in the percolator. Her hug was brushed away with an abrupt, Thank God you're here: I can get some sleep at last. She couldn't know that he was watching for her from his bedroom window, waiting for her car to drive in, struggling to stay awake.
Sigh. Some things don't change. Don't they? She got to know him that weekend the way she never had before. That under his gruff manner lay his affection and concern for her. Every little gesture spoke a million words. He made her feel special.
They spent a lazy Saturday browsing through old family albums, he acquainting her with aunts and uncles she'd never known existed. Regaling her with countless stories. Having her roll around in mirth at the funniest anecdotes brought guffaws to his lips, too. She made him feel young again.
As she knelt by his grave, his face seemed to smile up at her. Carefully, she placed the lilies on the stone. Cold, as he was in death. She'd never forget that one, heart-stopping moment. As she'd never forget him.