Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chapter XXII: A Kiss

Bill opened his eyes. Sunlight streamed through an open window. He was thirsty. He looked around and saw Gloria sitting in a chair next to him. He realized he was in a hospital. There was a muted television on a stand above the foot of his bed set to ESPN. A silent golf tournament was underway. The room smelled of antiseptic and Freon. A filthy air conditioning unit rattled next to the window as it blew out a cold and steady breeze.

Gloria reached over and took Bill's hand. "Hey guy, how you doing?"

Bill smiled. "Not so hot."

She smiled back. "Well, that's to be expected after getting a load of buck shot in your arm."

As if reading his mind, she held up a Styrofoam cup. He drank, gratefully, and enjoyed the sensation of ice cold water on his palate. "Thank you," he said, aware of a dribble of water falling from his lips.

"Don't mention it." Gloria reached up and wiped his lips with a paper tissue.

"How long was I out?"

"Long enough for me to have some news. I don't know how you did it, Bill. I don't understand this thing at all, but that skull was more than enough for a warrant. More than enough for a couple arrests."

"The Greens?"

She nodded. "We thought it was a single guy, but we were wrong. It happens. There was a storage building on the property, off in the woods a ways." She frowned. "I'm glad you didn't see it."

Bill remembered his vision. In his head, he saw the room full of the corpses of children patched together from various body parts, stitched together with ropes and wires and support poles, black and white feathers everywhere, and a floor littered with the bodies of dead swans. The scent of foul raw poultry assailed his senses. He nodded. "I did see it, but I'm glad I didn't have to see it again."

Gloria pointed to the television. "The talking heads have been having a field day with his one. It's the talk of the nation. Old Jimmy Swaggart had nothing on the Green's. I kind of feel sorry for the older Green, but his son was a real piece of work. Not to mention his wife. They both confessed. In fact, they were bragging. And to think they are still claiming they were doing god's work."

"God as they understood Him, I guess. But that's not God."

Gloria smiled. "Whatever you want to call it; I don't understand any of it."

"Thank God for that!"

Gloria grew silent. She reached over to Bill's face. "I missed you, you know. I thought about you a lot."

"I missed you, too."

She leaned in and touched her lips to Bill's. He kissed her back a moment and the pain went away for the briefest of moments. Her kiss was familiar, comforting, and kind. It reminded him of a more innocent time. Then she pulled away. "Now, I'm going to miss you again." She smiled but did not look happy. She looked to the door and stood up. She slapped her hands against her slacks. "Anyway, I need to be going. You have some visitors on the way."

Bill arched his eyebrows.

"She loves you, Bill. They love you. I don't understand your touch exactly, but things aren't set in stone. You may be able to get a feel for the past, you may have some basic understanding of the present, but none of us can ever know what the future holds. Hell, what were the chances of us meeting up together again like this? Pretty damn unlikely. Anyway, I need to go."

Bill nodded his head. She turned towards the door. "Wait!"

Gloria turned back around.

"Benny loves you, you know."

She smiled. "I know."

"He's a great guy."

"I know."

Bill nodded his head. "Maybe you're right. Maybe no one can see the future. Maybe the future is only what we make of it. Perhaps the crap I felt was just how things could go, a possible future. Perhaps that future could be different if I invest the time to make it different." He thought of his kids, his wife, and hoped it wasn't too late.

Gloria nodded. "Maybe."

Bill smiled. "Love matters, Gloria. It's important. Family's important. What you do is great. You've accomplished so much, but you're lonely. I feel it. I know you're afraid. I am, too. When you let someone close, it makes it that much easier for them to hurt you, but I think you're right: The future is what we make of it. I hate to sound cliché, but we deal with the hand we're dealt. That's all any of us can do. And if you want to know what I think, Benny's one hell of an ace up your sleeve. That's all I'm saying."

"I know. I know. Thank you, Bill."

"Thank you, Gloria."

They paused and looked at one another. A tear fell down Gloria's cheek leaving a trail of mascara. "Goodbye, Bill."

Bill smiled. "See you around, G."


"Yeah, maybe."

She left the room. After a few minutes there was a knock at the door. He heard the muffled sound of tiny voices. Over it all he heard the most beautiful voice he had ever known: "Bill?"

No matter what may happen, no matter the potential betrayals and heartaches, no matter the cost, and there's always a cost, Bill knew that – because of these shining moments – what lay on the other side of the door was worth any amount of pain.

"Come in."


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