We stood across the narrow street, staring at the single-story beige brick building set back from the road by an asphalt lawn. We were both silent for a moment. It had taken us almost a half hour to find it, off the highway headed south to Billy’s hometown from a short visit to mine in Oak Park. Central Illinois is not renowned for sweeping landscapes, and this tiny town of Gibson City with its three thousand proud citizens was no exception.
“So this is where the magic happened, huh?” He didn’t answer my dumb question. He just kept looking. I reached over and kissed his cheek.
“I never seen it before,” Billy said. He was solemn; his face wore some concern with a sidecar of relief. “And stop it! Someone will see.” He fluttered me away in a delayed reaction to my public display. There was no one in sight to see anything, the kiss or otherwise but it was one of our games. I liked to call it Embarrass Bill.
“Why were your parents all the way up here the night you were born?”
“I don’t know. I think they were coming back from Chicago or something when my mommy went into labor. I think.” His eyebrows went up in a question mark. “I always wanted to see it. That’s where I was born!”
Declaring the obvious, emphasizing every single word, was his trademark play. "I'm hungry!" he'd say in a restaurant. Sometimes he’d be lying in bed, almost asleep, and sit bolt upright to assert, “I’m tired,” to which my reply would always be, “Then it’s a good thing you’re in bed, honey.”
There was a weight in the air this day I couldn’t quite measure, but I was restless, wanting to get back on the road so we could make it to St. Elmo before nightfall. We stood there like tourists searching for a sight to see, the only people in town who would care to gawk at the hospital, and I reached over, let my hand hang in the air until he impulsively grabbed it, losing himself for a second, Embarrass Bill forgotten.
“Take a picture,” I said.
“Okay. Stand right over there.” He followed my direction when I told him to move a little to the left. His arms folded, his face a hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with pout, I snapped the shot. He walked back, looking over at the hospital again, probably for the last time. We knew there’d never be another reason to return.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I just feels weird. I never seen it before, that’s all. I never thought I would,” he said, softly.
“Like I said, that’s where the magic began.”
“Shut up, you big dummy guy.” He slapped my arm, laughing, the weight lifted, and we drove on home to St. Elmo.