Connie and Billy
A Christmastime Story
~ Part I ~
This is the story of Connie and Billy.
Connie was a guy and that’s an important fact. Billy was a lady and that’s important, too. They spent decades together. That’s what matters most.
They met in church on Christmas Eve. And they were engaged the same night.
Connie was thirteen and he was at church because he had no choice. Billy was there for the complete Christmas dazzle … the pipe organ, the choir, the carols, the decorations … and the extra good vibes that rippled through the throng of worshippers. It was a feel-good spectacle she’d never miss.
Squalls made the snowflakes dance wildly. The air had a cold, stingy bite. The crowded church was a warm sanctuary … and the hissing radiators reassured the frosted folks.
The church was a yuletide sensation. Colossal wreaths dangled from the twenty foot walls. Gigantic red bows were everywhere … over doors and windows … and fastened to the choir balcony. Twinkly, colored lights disneyed every corner of the gothic-styled church.
Giant red and white poinsettias … the monsignor’s favorite … cha-cha-ed on the walls from the flickering light. Scented garland draped the main altar. And the detailed creche was so life-like it seemed as if the figures might stir at any moment.
Towering Scotch pines … thick and girthy … flanked the white-marble altar. There was never-ending speculation how they made it indoors. They looked like identical giants … precisely the same height and width. One indistinguishable from the other. Both perfect in their shading and symmetry.
The atmosphere was heightened by pulsating carols piped by the colossal organ. It was sized more properly for a cathedral than a parish church … so a slip of a pedal might blow out a few stained-glass windows … and martyr a few parishioners as well.
Church-goers were frocked-out in bulky winter gear. Bundled up in dangly scarfs and chunky overcoats. Little children were costumed in goofy reindeer knit-caps and elf ears. And more than a few “relaxed” adults were topped with Santa hats … some rather elegantly decorated with glitter … or red and green shamrocks
The altar boys looked extra-pressed … and extra-tortured. Their hair was slicked and combed. They were planted in extra-shiny black shoes … and their forced smiles made for a good laugh.
Even the ancient organist managed a new hair-do for night … and a special outfit of remarkably gaudy taste … a red tunic accented with green treble clefs outlined in gold glitter. The poor lady looked like she fell off an album jacket from the Fifties.
But the air was pulsating with excitement. The vaulted ceiling volumed-up the anticipatory murmurs of the waiting congregation.
There was a festive edginess in the air … like the exciting anticipation before the curtain goes up.
Connie saw her during his first fidget attack of the night.
He’d wrangled a coveted aisle seat using gooey politeness to allow others into the pew first. It was a magnificent calculation that allowed him to claim the aisle spot … the least squishy seat … with a panoramic view.
For more than a few minutes he suffered endless introductions to folks he already knew. Every hand shake was a cue for someone to comment on his changing appearance. It was less annoying than his hair-mussing days … but just as public. And just as irritating.
“You’ve become quite the young man!”
“Is that you, Connie? I had to do a double-take!”
Some men would grasp his arm … groping for a muscle … like he was some bull up for inspection. Worse … some ladies would fake-swoon … and mutter eye-ball rolling double-entendres that said more about them than him.
It all lasted way too long.
Then he was saved from the puberty punishment by an organ blast … the church organ. Just wanna be clear about that.
The pint-sized organist seemed swallowed by the sheer immensity of the pipes which seemed to run right up to heaven. And she’d look upward … and smile at the pipes like a musical Quasimodo … as though they needed her encouragement to do their job.
As the congregation rose to their feet, the flock seemed to go through a long moment of gentle jostling as they rocked into the standing space they’d own for the rest of the evening.
The vibrations of the pipe organ were bone-rattling stuff … with the bass notes actually producing mini body tremors. It was sort of cool actually.
But the pulsing took a different turn when Connie caught Billy’s perfect face … just across the aisle.
She was the second one in the pew, but in fine view because a small child occupied the aisle seat opposite Connie. Her short stature kept Billy in almost full view. In perfect view.
And so, the staring began.
Connie wasn’t rude … he was thirteen. He cared little if others saw his looking as staring. In his mind, this sort of over-packed event called for lots of looking. People-periscoping. But that aimless ogling was hijacked by Billy’s beauty. Even he admitted to his own staring.
She was that stunning. And he was that taken.
Billy was unusually tall … with perfect posture. Swimmer’s shoulders … and a model’s neck. She owned a thick forest of chestnut brown hair that spiraled down to her shoulders in magnificent, simple-perfect curls. Her hair was so satiny … so thick and so lush. Much more hair than necessary.
Her styled bangs framed her perfect face. And her fleshy-plump lips were crazy-perfect … and her slender nose seemed to point the way to those gorgeous lips.
Poor Connie was tranced.
Every dimension of her face was in perfect proportion. Her lips … her nose… her cheeks … her chin. Her brown-green eyes seemed ever-moist. Twinkly. Like far away stars that sort of winked.
Her head was almost always at a slight cock to the right. And her eyes seemed lost in some thinking moment … an almost stare … but far away. Her cheek bones seemed to grow with the faintest smile. Her skin was flawless. Not a single hint of hormone havoc.
Billy didn’t suffer from teenage awkward either. That’s what set her apart from the rest of the world. She was lots of beautiful just gathered together … all perfectly assembled.
And that’s why he was staring. And why he couldn’t stop.
Billy was simply unusual. A beautiful early-woman … already full of grace … and poise … and undeniable elegance. She was actually enchanting.
And it was a real guess whether she knew it or not. Connie would guess for the next six decades or so … and still be unsure of the answer.
Billy knew straight away she was under surveillance, and she was very okay with it. She wasn’t like other thirteen year olds. Oh! … and she was a starer, too. Just less obvious than Connie. More accomplished. And she was already enough of a lady to know how to invite more staring.
And so … the game was on.
Connie was a lank. Tallish and tawny … his bones in need of some muscle-meat. His face was an unforgettable blend of innocent mischief and any-minute virility. He was in that perfect man-boy moment. Lots of blondish hair … curled just enough … worth stares galore. It was thick and medieval … and it seemed to obey all on its own.
But it was his high-wattage blue eyes … really blue-blue … that hypnotized everyone. Impossible marbles that seemed to flicker. And … and it was too, too easy to get trapped in the shimmer … and then impossible to get away. Billy learned that straight away.
Those ocean-blue eyes were like mesmerizing holograms … changing composition with each movement. Once you were caught in his eyes, well, there was no way out. They were lady traps.
And Billy bit. And got caught.
Connie’s face was more than hinting at grown-up handsomeness. His jaw was jutty enough … and his nose was perfectly formed and centered. His broad forehead was ivied with his tumbling, light-colored hair. He looked like a youthful Viking with his exciting passions tucked away just below the surface.
But it was his smile that really tripped up Billy’s undercover staring.
Connie’s smile didn’t just happen. It took its time to come to a full-fledged grin … as though it was hooked up to a slow pulley. It took its sweet time to flare. And it was that slow anticipation that tossed Billy completely off her game … and gave Connie an unfair advantage in the Christmas Eve staring competition.
So, for the next hour or so they enjoyed the Christmas sights and sounds … and the good cheer in the air. But they never really took their eyes off of each other. They just took turns sneaking peeks and exchanging smiles that grew bigger with each round.
This was serious flirting. And they were both very excellent at it.
Then … then it was time to meet … and speak.
When the service ended, Connie again choreographed the moment so he’d hit the aisle in perfect proximity to Billy. It was a masterful performance of stutter-stepping and muttered “excuse me’s” that put him right alongside Billy for the long, slow penguin-walk out of the crowded church.
She was very impressed with his mob skills … the smooth jostling that landed him right along side her.
And when they came face-to-face … he studied her more intently … and she just gazed down … thoroughly aware that Connie’s eyes were exploring her up-close.
But she was very cool about it … lifting her eyes here and there … waiting for him to say something. Then their shoulders bumped gently and they shared a fast smile … and Billy went back to floor staring. And Connie went back to staring.
The shuffle to the door was broken when someone called out Connie’s name … and he jerked his head about to see who was paging him. Billy was startled by his name, and couldn’t hide her wide smile.
“Is that your name?”, she asked.
A bit stunned to hear her speak, Connie looked straight at her.
She gave him the bright-eye look that said, “Well, answer the question.”
“Yes. Yes, I’m Connie, alright,” he said … tapping his chest.
And he added.
“And you are?”
In a flash, she responded.
“Billy. My name’s Billy.”
And Connie snort-laughed … had to cover his mouth because his smile was now the size of a yawn. He threw his head back … and his eyes got very expressive. He dropped his hand and purposely shoulder-bumped Billy … inviting her to join in the funny name-game.
“So, it’s Billy and Connie, eh?” he said, shaking his head back and forth … and smiling all the while.
Then he looked right at her … and said very certainly …
“No one’s ever gonna forget us!”
And that’s how he proposed. Just like that.
And she smiled, “Yes!”
And just like that … she accepted his proposal.
So, a decade or so later … after several more Christmas Eves … Connie Moon got around to marrying Billy Dumas. And not a soul was surprised.
The whole world saw it coming.
Their wedding was perfectly simple.
Glorious summer day … backyard ceremony … a trio of guitarists making very excellent music. Then … off to Italy. Verona to be precise … to hangout with some of Shakespeare’s imaginary pals.
They held off on the baby business and established themselves first.
Billy became a favored teacher at Snug Harbor Elementary … so popular that each spring her principal blamed her for the avalanche of phone calls from parents seeking special placement for their kids in her class next term. He silently wished he had a few dozen Billy Moons on staff.
He got his revenge by leaning on Billy for every important effort. Fund-raisers, back-to-school events, school carnivals, and play productions. But she handled it all so effortlessly … and others almost always rose above themselves … because she encouraged them so sincerely.
Connie became a pharmacist and eventually bought Turner’s Pharmacy which he immediately renamed Moon’s Apothecary … an ode to his historical love of his profession.
Within a short while, he, too, was a village fixture … famous for his knowledge, carefulness, and gentleness. His very unique business card informed everyone that they could call at any hour … of any day. And they did. Often.
He’d see to midnight emergencies and Sunday drop-offs … old-fashioned service everyone thought had vanished.
The elderly and the all-alones were especially reassured by Connie … and the young mothers chatted that they could not live without him. Period.
In a very short time, the Moons had sunk deep roots in town. As a young couple, they were seen about … but not in the showy way. They were just always together. At church … town events … parades … high school games. Plays.
They’d share lunch on a huge rock on Ogle Hill … or on a blanket in Flint Park. They’d walk the shoreline in every season … and build cool snow creatures on their front lawn. Kids would show up with wounded compadres in need of emergency band-aids … and walk off with cold drinks and sweet treats … after some good-natured silliness by the both of them.
The Moons walked around their neighborhood every evening. Kids would invite them to their games and plays and costume parades. And they’d always show up … and snap great pictures … and send them along to very busy … and very grateful … parents.
They enjoyed several passions … some shared, some not.
Billy went full-tilt into physical stuff like hiking and age-group swimming competitions. That same passion turned her into a very fine watercolorist, too. She’d volunteer for this and that … and she was soon the first one called upon for any new civic venture in the village. She was bad at saying “No”.
Connie became a savvy antique collector … snatching up mostly medical and pharmaceutical artifacts during his travels with Billy. He put them on display … under soft-soft lights, in elegant, glass cases all around his store. Flasks and bottles and drug jars of every shape and color … all neatly arranged … and identified in museum fashion.
Old signs of all sorts … faded flyers touting miracle cures … advertisements for elixirs, tonics, and cure-alls. Vintage bottles of potions and brews that could cure everything from a bad smile to a lousy personality.
Soon his gadgets and bottles and weird instruments needed more room … so he appropriated the shop next door … and his apothecary became a peculiar and popular attraction … part drug store, part museum, part gathering spot.
He was especially proud of his ornate amber “Verona Vial” … his prized Italian relic from the 14th century … displayed in its own cloisonné box … with its own mini-spotlight.
Older folks loved to reminisce … and zoom back in time to marvel long-forgotten items of their younger days … unusual novelties like old liniments, magic hair tonics, over-promising potions, and cure-all pills. He collected pamphlets and books on medical theories, midwifery, and crazy surgeries. And sex stuff, too … which caused giggles and questions from every age.
But the Moons had passions beyond their careers … shared involvements that glued them together in their off hours.
They were religious theatre crawlers. Actually Shakespeare addicts. Catching plays of every talent level at every chance … in summer stock situations, big city productions, or community performances. They’d run off to high schools and college productions. Even middle school thetricals.
They weren’t theatre snobs at all. Just fans of Shakespeare … and kids.
And they married their passion for Shakespeare with the their love of travel.
While other couples were changing diapers and collapsing into bed at ever earlier hours, Connie and Billy were skipping off to far away locations mentioned in the plays of William Shakespeare.
Hamlet’s Kronborg Castle in Denmark … better known as Elsinore. Richard III’s Pontefract Castle. Lushy Falstaff’s Boar’s Head Inn in London … and France’s Ardennes Forest in “As You Like It.”
But their absolute favorite destination was Verona … the setting of Romeo and Juliet.
They saw that play more than any other … and amused one another by mouthing the lines under their breath.
They’d seen seventh graders do it sweet justice … and adult productions turn it into a rip-roaring fiasco. But the bittersweetness of the story survived every rendition because … well … because love does conquer all. Even bad acting.
They traveled to Verona four times in four straight summers. And stayed longer with each visit. That city would color their lives forever. And foretell a most unusual moment …
TO BE CONTINUED…Part II
Blog Publisher & Layout Designer ~ Michelle Moore