They all arrived in a clump just as I had anticipated. David B. was knocking on the screen door as Gene peered into the living room window and when I walked over to unhook the clasp on the door, I saw the entire gang. As they filed into the house, each one giving me a big and consequential hug, relief swept away all the anxiety I had manifested into a tainted bouillabaisse.
All of these men had known Billy far longer than me and the love for him was palpable in the kitchen last night as we stood around trading stories and drinking beer. Early on in our relationship, I had distanced myself from Billy’s core friend group out of some errant snobbery but since Billy went into hiding, I’ve tried to reach out and mend whatever rifts existed and soothe the hurt feelings I may have created over the past decade.
Earlier in the day, I had ventured into Billy’s closet with a determination to mark the clothes I could bear to part with and keep those that are essential to me. I was successful and teary but I made it through the tunnel, sometimes crawling on my belly. I had laid out the clothes for their choosing as well as some other keepsakes I knew they would cherish. I also selected several stories I had written and Kinko’s bound them nicely into books. If Billy wasn’t going on a birthday walk this year, his friends were.
I looked around the room and could see that each man had characteristics that Billy would find appealing. The common thread was their lack of pretense. No one boasted of a marquee job, not a single one of them flexed a single muscle and each one had the spirit of having fun at his core. I was relaxed and found myself giggling with them. What the hell did I have against these guys in the first place? It would have made Billy so much happier had I not created a 38th Parallel.
At one point, we decided to go on a Julia walk as I told them Julia Roberts lives a half-block from our house. With beers and margaritas in hand, the eight of us, and Bob, went down the darkened walk street where Julia lives. Before we left, we drunkenly traded ideas of what to shout when we arrived at her doorstep.
“Hey pretty woman. Yoo hoo!”
“Oh Julia. I’ve got a knotting hill in my pants for you!”
“Hey baby. It’s Keifer. Open up.”
Bob led the pack as he certainly knows this route and as we approached Julia’s home, there was a hush and a reverence. Her bedroom light was off and only the porch light illuminated her front yard.
“She lives there?” Bobby said in disbelief at how accessible the house was situated.
“Well she has to live somewhere,” John D. snorted.
We rounded the corner and came back home. I had bought thirteen of Billy’s favorite brownies from a nearby bakery and decorated each one with a letter so they collectively spelled out H-A-P-P-Y B-I-L-L-Y-D-A-Y. I put a candle on each one and we sang Happy Birthday as each of us blew out our candles and made our individual wishes.
My wish came true later when everyone left, and Bob and I were in bed. I held his picture and stared into those smiling Navy eyes and he looked back at me more vibrant than I’ve seen him in a long time. I didn’t say a word. I let him do the talking. And I liked what I heard.