Connie and Billy
A Christmastime Story
This is the story of Connie and Billy. Don’t be fooled by the names.
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. He was at church because he had no choice.
Billy was thirteen, too … but she was there for the Christmas dazzle. The pipe organ, the choir, the carols, and the decorations. And the extra-good vibes. It was a feel-good spectacle she’d never miss.
The winter air supplied lots of frigid … but the hissing radiators thawed the frosted folks.
The church was a yuletide smash. Colossal wreaths dangled from high up the walls. Jumbo red bows were everywhere … over doors and windows … and fastened to the choir balcony.
Colored lights twinkled in every corner of the gothic-styled church.
Red and white poinsettias … the monsignor’s favorites … seemed to dance on the walls from the flickering lights. Scented garland draped the main altar. The creche figures were so life-like, it seemed they might stir at any moment.
Towering Scotch pines … thick and girthy … flanked the white-marble altar. Everyone wondered how they’d made it indoors. They were identical giants … precisely the same height and width. Both perfect in their shape and symmetry.
The powerful organ was better suited for a cathedral than a parish church. 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 their best winter gear. Bundled up in colored scarfs and chunky overcoats. 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 even small tree bulbs.
The altar boys looked extra-pressed … and extra-tortured. Their hair was slicked and combed … and they were planted in extra-shiny black shoes. 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 bad 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.
There was a festive commotion 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 phony politeness … allowing others into the pew first. It was a magnificent calculation that allowed him to claim the aisle spot … the least squishy seat … with a sweeping view of the goings-on.
He’d already 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 uncomfortable.
“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.
He was saved by an organ blast … the church organ. Just wanna be clear about that.
The pint-sized organist was dwarfed by the height of the pipes which seemed to run straight up to heaven. 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 … like a colony of penguins. They rocked into the standing space they’d own for the rest of the evening.
The pipe organ was bone-rattling. The bass notes would thump through everyone’s body … causing curious body tremors.
But the pulsing took a different turn when … just across the aisle … Connie caught Billy’s perfect face.
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 full view. In perfect view.
And so, the staring began.
Connie wasn’t rude … he was thirteen. He cared little if others caught him staring because … in his mind … this sort of extravaganza called for lots of looking. People-periscoping.
But then his eyes crashed into Billy Dumas … and the night was turned upside down.
She was that stunning.
And he was that taken.
Billy was taller than most … with perfect posture. And she had more hair than necessary … a thick forest of light brown hair spiraled down in perfect waves.
She looked as though she walked straight out of a classic movie. A Hollywood beauty from long ago.
Her hair framed her perfect face. Her lips were crazy-perfect … and her slender nose seemed to point the way to those gorgeous lips.
Connie was tranced.
Every dimension of her face was in perfect proportion. Her lips … her nose… her cheeks … her chin. Her brown-green eyes twinkled … and seemed to wink.
Her head was almost always on a slight cock to the right. And her eyes seemed lost in some thinking moment. An almost stare. And her cheek bones seemed to grow with the faintest smile.
Billy didn’t suffer from teenage awkward. 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.
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 tight surveillance … and she was very okay with it.
She was an unusual thirteen year old.
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 … thickish 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 it was too, too easy to get trapped in the shimmer … and then impossible to get away. They were lady traps.
And Billy bit. And got caught.
His smile tripped up Billy’s undercover staring. Connie’s smile didn’t just happen. It took its sweet time to flare. And it was that slow anticipation that tossed Billy Dumas 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.
It 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 managed to spill into the aisle right next to 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 … she gazed coyly … thoroughly aware that Connie’s eyes were exploring her up-close.
But she was cool about it … lifting her eyes here and there … waiting for him to say something. Then their shoulders bumped … and they shared a fast smile.
And Connie went back to memorizing Billy.
The shuffle was interrupted 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?”
A bit stunned to hear her speak, Connie looked straight at her.
“Yes. Yes, I’m Connie, alright.”
“And you are?”
“Billy. My name’s Billy.”
And Connie threw his head back … and laughed out-loud … and shoulder-bumped Billy … laughing at the funny name-game.
“So, it’s Billy and Connie, is it?” 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.
So, a decade or so later … after several more Christmas Eves … Connie Moon married Billy Dumas.
And not a soul was surprised.
The whole world saw it coming.
The wedding was perfectly simple. Glorious summer day. Backyard ceremony. Quiet music. Then … off to Italy. Verona actually. To hangout with some of Shakespeare’s make-believe pals.
They held off on the baby business and grew their roots first.
Billy became a favored teacher at Snug Harbor Elementary … so popular that each spring her principal blamed her for the avalanche of parent calls seeking special placement in her class.
He silently wished he had a few dozen more Billy Moons on staff.
He’d get his revenge by leaning on Billy for every important effort … fund-raisers, back-to-school events, school carnivals, play productions. She handled it all so effortlessly. And made other teachers rise to the occasion because she encouraged them so sincerely.
Connie Moon became a pharmacist. Bought Turner’s Pharmacy … and immediately renamed it Moon’s Apothecary … an ode to his historical love of his profession.
In no time at all, he 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 a Sunday crisis. Old-fashioned service … with old fashioned compassion everyone thought had vanished.
Older folks and those all alone were especially reassured by his genuine manner. And the young mothers couldn’t live without him. Period.
The Moons sunk deep roots in town.
They were all about … but not in a showy way. Just always together. At church … town events … parades … high school games … and plays.
They loved 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 pals … 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 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 loved age-group swimming competitions … and watercolors. And she’d volunteer for this and that … usually 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 in his store … under soft, white lights … in elegant, antique glass cases.
Flasks and bottles and drug jars of every shape and color. All neatly arranged. 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 bought the shop next door. Moon’s 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 would mill around and reminisce … marveling long-forgotten items from their younger days. Unusual novelties like old liniments, magic hair tonics, over-promising lotions … and magic medicines.
But the Moons had passions beyond their careers … shared involvements that glued them together in their off hours.
They were devoted 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 school and college productions. Even middle school theatricals.
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 Moon were skipping off to far away locations brought to life by William Shakespeare.
Hamlet’s Kronborg Castle in Denmark … lushy Falstaff’s Boar’s Head Inn in London … and the 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 for four straight summers. And stayed longer with each visit. That city would color their lives forever. And foretell a most unusual moment …
Eventually, their baby moment arrived … set it in motion by one of Billy’s classic announcements.
“Let’s get busy with this family stuff.”
And they did.
In a blink, they were crowded with a princess and a pair of squires. Connie and Billy raised ’em right and then let ’em fly because … they agreed … those were Nature’s instructions.
They believed that kidhood should be an indulgent buffet of adventures … great and small. Side-dished with lessons, trips, and sports of all sorts. Jammed with arts of all kinds … especially theatre. Lots of theatre. Where ever they were.
The children rode horses, paddled canoes, took up archery, shot pool, and became very fine chess players. They had dogs, hamsters, and even ant farms. And their kids knew how to draw out morning worms with some mysterious mustard concoction that was supposedly a Merlin recipe.
They were down-to-earth kids who could cook and sew and iron … and they did their own wash the moment they could reach the dials. And that was cause for cake … and clapping. And funny speeches.
But the Moon parents treated each child as a special sort. As a “oner.”
In private moments, Connie would squat way, way down … look each straight in the eye … and confess … “I love you the best!”
And they all knew their dad said the exact same thing to the others, but it didn’t matter because … for that moment … those words made them special enough. And that was the point.
Billy called each of them “a special order” … and that amused them … prompting them to giggle … and to ask if they had model numbers. And she’d rattle off goofy serial numbers that made everyone roar.
The Moons scattered their house with curiosities picked up during their travel escapades. Carpets and books and vases.
Knick-knacks, showpieces, and whatnots. Figurines, boxes, pottery, and a few weird souvenirs no one could explain. Each a story-trigger … a recollection.
The creaky Victorian house belonged to everyone … so everyone chipped in with the chores … big or small. And age made no difference.
They swept and vacuumed and mopped … even if they hadn’t made a breath-taking mess. They helped bag leaves, shovel snow, and turn over garden beds as soon as they could stand. Everyone was comfortable with screw drivers and hammers and spades and clippers … and spatulas, mixers, and cast iron pans.
Every Moon child knew how to make brownies. It was every child’s first lesson in survival. And everyone had their own bedroom … their own first kingdom … and first responsibility.
And there was one very important feature of the Moon children.
Differences were expected
… and respected.
They didn’t do cookie-cutter kids. They grew ‘em one at a time. Every child had their own space … but not their own rules.
“We’re all in this together, remember?”
There were no allowances because … as Billy would say with an almost straight-face …
“I’m sorry … we don’t believe in child labor.”
Instead … every reasonable suggestion got genuine consideration. Billy and Connie would take up a request overnight … and render a morning verdict. The kids learned to be careful and sensible. And that was the point.
The were taught to stick up for what’s right … and to look out for those who needed lookin’ out for.
They learned to give of their time and their money … as meager as it might be. How much wasn’t the issue … the giving was the issue.
Mother and father Moon made few accommodations because they were small people. They thought of kids as well-equipped Lilliputians … so they went where Billy and Connie went … restaurants, church, even adult events.
They were included in concerts … milled around museums … and traveled with them, too. And they tagged along for every play.
Billy insisted that theatre-going was the antidote to witless television. So the “Moonbeams” … as Connie sometimes called them … became fans of “Bill” … “Billy Bard” … William Shakespeare. .
They knew dozens of plays inside-out … and each had their favorite … and their favorite characters, too. And they could quote Shakespeare as smoothly as the neighborhood kids quoted Darth Vader.
They were unusually cool Moonbeams.
Veronica, always called Ronny, became the village lawyer of conscience … doing pro bono work for the town’s hard-luckers … especially women left in the lurch by disappearing partners or abusive men. She was named for Shakespeare’s most favorite city … Verona.
In a moment of early teenage angst, she remarked how thankful she was not to be named after the city of Pisa.
“I could be a ‘Pisa work’, you know?”
And Connie could not resist …
“Or a ‘Pisa ass’!”
And that got a long, eye-rolling “Daaaaaaaaaad” moan.
She was a captivating blend of Billy’s determination and her father’s unconditional empathy for the most vulnerable. Even as a child she wanted to be everyone’s champion. The protector. The guardian.
She took her position as big sister very seriously.
But in private … she was a squish.
Ronny was a gorgeous hybrid … fortuned with Connie’s colored hair and Billy’s perfect profile. It was an impossible chore for the lady to look unbeautiful.
And she was smart, smart, smart.
A quick, penetrating questioner … but with a soft style that put everyone at immediate ease. People would dump their hearts out on her desk … and Ronny had to learn to manage her emotions because … because her own heart was too fat.
Veronica was followed by two gentlemen.
Lawrence was the unusual. The splendidly different. Few were surprised when he buried himself in religious studies as a college student. He’d been tilting in that direction since he was a boy.
Always good for unusual questions … and the more unusual follow-ups … he was seldom satisfied with any answer … and so … that was his quest. His chase. That elusive stuff called truth.
Other than that spiritual heaviness, Lawrence was a boy’s boy.
He was by far the tallest of them all … with a gigantic wing-span. He was a gifted athlete who was never full of himself. And while others noticed him, he noticed others. Especially ones who were overlooked.
Once, as a ten year old, he petitioned his Little League coach … smack in the middle innings of the championship game! … that Owen Cord deserved an at-bat … even though he was the most dreadful swinger in the league.
For two innings, he followed the coach around the dugout … making his case for the kid with the .000 batting average.
“Owen’s never missed a practice … or a game. He puts the bases away without asking … and he brings everyone gum. Coach, he hasn’t gotten enough chances. He’ll come through. You’ll see.”
As if it was a certainty that Owen Cord … who had never stood on first base in his entire life … would deliver a championship hit.
And he did. With one swing.
And Lawrence patted the coach. Told him what a genius he was.
Owen Cord became Lawrence Moon’s best friend forever … even named his own son “Lawrence”.
How’s that for a story?
That was Lawrence Moon … always directing the sunlight on others. Pointing to the shiny side of every coin. Giving everyone a special chance to do something special … and to become someone special.
Creating moments that would influence a lifetime.
After an unusually short grooming period, Lawrence Moon became an unusually young pastor of a very unusual, medieval-style church in the next county.
And guess what?
A very successful Owen Cord joined his flock and became his most generous benefactor … funding all kinds of good-will projects. Proving what goes around, comes around.
Pastor Lawrence inherited Connie’s concern for the “all alones” … and the nervous-anxious. Mother Billy called him her templar-son. She’d hug him so her ear was pressed against his chest … and she could listen to his heart. Then look up at his handsome face … pat his heart and say …
“It’s nice ‘n big. Just the way I like it!”
And they would both lock eyes … and smile. And Billy would wrap her arms around his big frame … and squeeze until she squeaked.
Then there was Romeo the impulsive.
An almost instant legend as a high school English and theatre teacher. His combustible personality made him a very popular pied piper.
He was the genetic winner of Connie’s nuclear smile … and his parents wanderlust. Everyone joked that his bags were always packed … that he was always ready to hit the road.
Ronny called his dressers a waste of wood because he lived out of duffle-bags and pillowcases. Lawrence joked he might be on the the lam from the law.
Romeo Moon had lots and lots of hair.
And lots of passion, too. Particularly for Bill. The Bard. The Shakespeare guy.
He was glib-easy … just like his father. Could charm a rock. And typical to the tribe, he favored the lost souls in his school. Used his plays … mostly Shakespeare stuff, of course … to make stars of the most unlikely social waifs … the quiet … the not-so-beautifuls … the invisibles.
He had special voodoo that made believers out of everyone he touched. Parents thought he was a demi-god because he’d see such special stuff in their children when others did not. And then he’d mine that special stuff so sweetly.
All he’d tell the stunned parents …
“I just looked under the hood …”
His way of saying that their talent was there all along … and he wasn’t surprised at all … and they shouldn’t be either.
But there was more.
Romeo Moon not only made kids believe in themselves … he taught them to believe in each other.
He’d say time and again, “Your shoulders aren’t there to dangle arms, folks. You have shoulders for others to lean on … so put ‘em to work.”
And those kids did just that … year after year …. and play after play.
There was still lots of boy in him, too. He was an affectionate sort who’d sneak up from behind and give bear-hugs … and then ask if he could get an autograph.
And he had more lady friends than shoes.
When pressed about settling down, he’d put his hands up in surrender … and quote Shakespeare … “All’s well that ends well” … and smile big. With lots of mischief. And others would laugh and say things like “When pigs fly” and “When the moon turns to cheese”.
And he’d grin … and do the Groucho eyes.
He also had a habit of vanishing. Disappearing. Dropping out for days at a time … and then relaxing everyone with a casual call from some curious place that had caught his fancy.
He’d always manage to ring up when the family was together … and the call always began with a familiar question …
“Guess where I am?”.
Everyone would roll their eyes and scream out the most ridiculous destinations. Then he’d sneak in the back door … or pop out of the garage … in some cheapo t-shirt that was a bad clue about his recent escapade.
And it would all get very funny, very quickly.
Connie and Billy Moon made great babies … who grew into great kids … and then splendid adults. A handsome-beautiful trio. Singularly special … but remarkably similar.
So the years rolled by.
The children married … and had children of their own.
Then Father Time started leaving memos for Connie and Billy Moon.
Hair turned gray. Shoulders sloped. Steps got shorter. Fewer adventures. Ordinary to-do’s became chores. There were glasses and practical shoes. And body creaks.
And then some scarier messages.
Billy’s health fell into a slow decline. At first, the children noticed it more than Connie because their visits were intermittent … so they measured their mother differently.
There were the heart medications … then some minor procedures … followed by not-so-minor procedures. And then harder medications that Connie loathed, but had to love because … because they kept Billy right where he wanted her.
But he knew what each new prescription meant. He knew the message that wasn’t printed on those prescription bottles. He knew the story they were writing.
But Billy and Connie Moon switched gears easily.
They did the grandparent thing with ease because … well … parenting is like riding a bike … you just don’t ever forget. You might peddle a bit slower, but there aren’t many new tricks.
Their house was the family hub. Holidays were organized chaos because, well, kids hatch chaos.
And there were spur-of-the-moment happening of all sorts. Fire-pit story nights … and fireplace fables. Impromptu barbecues, lawn olympics, and goofy competitions … with even goofier awards.
Grandkids would ring up and arrange their own sleep-overs … without even asking their parents. And nothing smiled Billy and Connie more than to hear their little feet track across the upstairs hallway as they claimed their parents’ old beds … and then insist they be read the very same go-to-sleep tales.
Saying good-night to the little vagrants became a sweet re-run for Billy and Connie … and they’d giggle themselves to sleep, too … just like the little punks down the hall.
Of course, the Christmas season held special memories for them both.
The mere mention of Christmas Eve caused an eye-lock … as they’d silently remember their penguin-walk years and years before … in the over-decorated church … at midnight Mass when they’d met … and got engaged.
As thirteen year olds.
The holiday finale was an elaborate evening for the small-fries … replete with tricky gifts and serious presents … and a family feast with a spotlight moment for every child … no matter how old.
Everyone had to speak … tell a tale or make a special wish or whisper a truth. They could sing … recite a poem … or supply everyone with a great confession.
It was serious stuff. Very sincere until it was too cute or too funny. A tribal tradition that everyone looked forward to.
Billy saw to the smallest holiday details while Connie accepted his usual role as the Christmas gopher … the house-servant to the house-queen.
Their roomy home was done up in mistletoes, strands of garland, and twinkly-blinkly lights. Countless candy dishes … softly ridiculed as “cavity cups” … made fun of the usual sweet restrictions. And the Moon grandparents never … not ever! … ran out of chocolates and peppermint treats. Or brownies.
And that made them heroes.
The fresh-cut Scotch pine freshened the whole house for weeks … and each decoration had its own tale … its own embellished fable that seemed to grow more fantastical every year.
Clan myths were spiced with fun exaggerations, but made real enough by real story-tellers and lots of very wide eyes. The newest generation ate it all up … as if it was heavy-duty history that somehow failed to make their history books.
But one Christmas Eve day supplied an anxious alarm about Billy’s situation … and the fun stuff got pushed aside.
It took her ’til nearly mid-afternoon just to shower, While the sound of running water relieved Connie in a big way, he knew something was more than a little wrong.
An hour later, Billy appeared … perfectly put together, but holding her small over-night valise.
Connie knew. He just knew.
“I’d better spend a little time at Good Samaritan,” was all she said.
And Connie sat her down in the den … and raced upstairs to gather up what he needed for an unusual Christmas Eve.
Good Samaritan was a six-bed village clinic run by nurse-nuns. A lay-over there held just two possibilities: head home in a day or two … or off to the real-deal medical center where the heavy issues were addressed by big-shot doctors who did big-deal tests … sometimes followed by big-deal bad news.
Usually, Billy was back home in a day or so. But that didn’t keep Connie from sleeping at the clinic on some cushy chair that was pushed around by the more youthful nuns.
Everyone came to expect him to roam the halls until late into the night … until Billy was sound asleep. Then he’d get comfy in the chair and serenade everyone with a snore.
In all their years together
they’d never spent a night apart.
And it wasn’t gonna happen now.
The long hallway was lit like a runway … the wall lights crawling up to the ceiling like soft ivy … highlighting papier-mâché angels which seemed to flutter on the walls.
Old Sister Mary Catherine whispered that she was wheeling Billy to the honeymoon suite … and giggled at her own racy joke.
“It’s the only Christmas gift I look forward to,” smiled Billy … causing poor Mary Catherine to almost choke on her chuckle.
And Billy winked.
Connie tended to the front desk paper-work … and mentioned his arriving children. He asked that all three head to Billy’s room together. Less taxing on Billy, he reasoned. A group visit … then Billy could rest until the doctor stopped by in the morning.
Then he sank into the over-stuffed chair.
There was quite a bit of foot traffic down by Billy’s room. In a short while, a nurse tapped his shoulder … and joked that his manhood moment had arrived. He fetched his overnight bag … and headed down the hall.
Two terribly young nurses stood like motionless sentinels at the door … and another stood in the corner like a statue … casting a floating shadow that looked just like the Blessed Mother.
Connie was unprepared for the scene.
Billy looked stunning-beautiful in the creamy light of the room. He grinned big when he noticed a second bed pushed up against Billy’s. The nurse smiled sweetly and whispered,
And they all vanished.
Billy patted his bed … and in no time he was right there … right next to her … with his arm draped across her middle. His face inches from hers.
And the staring started all over again …
just as it had decades before …
in that crowded church.
And … as if on cue … a soft version of “Little Drummer Boy” romanced them … echoing off the hallway walls. It was impossible for them not to grin.
“Remember?” she whispered.
“Of course,” he smiled.
“So, you’ll fall in love with me all over again?” asked Billy.
“Every year. It’s a wonderful tradition.”
And she smiled … and her cheekbones popped … and her eyes got damp … and she nestled her head in the pillow.
And Connie kissed her forehead … then her cheeks … and lips.
“You’re a bad boy.”
And then they talked with their eyes.
“We should be in church” … said Billy.
“We should be right here …”
They smiled each other for long moments … and Connie would gently gather her a bit closer … and inch toward her … and Billy would kiss his head … and watch that slow smile run across his mouth.
It was a sure-fire reaction …
one that she depended on.
But her breathing was not so easy. The breaths got deeper … and her eyes flickered. And he knew.
He just knew.
Connie fought back with calm … careful to lay his head just beyond her shoulder … so they could lock eyes … so she could fight her fright … so he could capture her mind … and ease her off.
And very quickly, her eyes were still.
Frozen in a forever gaze.
The sons and daughter were unprepared for this Christmas Eve moment. Dressed in nearly identical, ankle-length overcoats, they headed down the shadowy hallway like a trio of heavies in some old film.
The soft sobs caught them off guard. The nurses at the door had wet eyes.
They filed into the room … and the air rushed out of them. They stood frozen. Shoulder-to-shoulder. At the foot of the beds.
And it took long, long moments for it all to settle in. To be unraveled. Understood.
And as their eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, they found themselves in a surreal dimension. An otherworldly moment.
Never did death look so serene.
So sweet. So content.
Connie and Billy were tangled in a gentle embrace. His head lay under Billy’s chin … and her left hand palmed his cheek. She seemed to be looking down at him … crying. Her tear-tracks glistened in the milky light … and Connie’s night-shirt was spotted with her tear-drops.
“Silent Night” wafted down the hallway … adding a holy soundtrack as they studied the scene before them.
And in their shock was a peculiar joy.
And sweet tranquility.
They smiled weakly at each other … because the scene was so … so surreal and so sublime. So tragically beautiful.
And for a very long moment, they huddled up. Hung their arms around each other’s necks. Bowed their heads … and let tears leak out.
Ronny smoothed out the bed linens … and tidied the pillows. She pulled up the bedspread and gently tucked them in.
Then she turned toward her brothers.
After a long stare … she opened her fist … and there it was … rocking back and forth in her palm … the Verona Vial. From the apothecary case.
They were glued together in a disbelieving moment. But then … then they managed nodding smiles. Because they knew. They absolutely knew.
And as it all became clear, they let go with deep exhales.
Then each took their turn stroking the faces of their mother and father. Leaning in to say farewell … with unhurried kisses and private whispers.
Minutes later, they stood together again … more at ease with the moment … filing away the details they’d need for a lifetime of remembering.
Then Romeo Moon spoke a soft, theatrical prayer … an off-the-cuff Shakespearean benediction.
“Oh, my love!
You have not been conquered.
There is still red in your lips … and in your cheeks.
I’ll stay with you … rest here forever.”
And he lost his composure to tears. But he blinked through the blessing …
“Eyes, look out for the last time!
Arms, make your last embrace!
And lips, seal the deal.
Come bitter poison … here’s to my love!”
Romeo couldn’t turn off the tears … because his heart had collapsed in his chest. And because the next line was the good-bye line. The story’s end.
He gulped as much courage as he could … opened his eyes extra-wide … and finished his perfect prayer.
“So … I die with a kiss.”
Then he buried his face in Ronny’s hair … and they were both wrapped in the reassuring arms of Lawrence.
And at that exact moment, Connie Moon and Billy Dumas bumped shoulders …
and headed to Forever.
Blog Publisher & Layout Designer ~ Michelle Moore