In the Blink of an Eye

by Grasshopper

A pine warbler flew low over the edge of the small river, cruising for a shady spot. He landed softly on the branch of an old butternut hickory that had been there before roads led to his woods. The day was warm; the air was full of the scent of wild honeysuckle, only the sound of small animals and a gentle breeze rustling the tall wild grasses.

The bright yellow-breasted bird darted his eyes for danger, then settled on the branch to rest. He gripped the bark to steady his perch and the tiny seeds clinging to his claws fell toward the ground. Three seeds in all, three-winged bits fluttering to the ground, coming from another forest to burrow into the river's damp earth, just here, where the river narrowed and men had never stepped. Only the squirrels and the breeze watched them fall, just another part of nature, unimportant in the grand scheme of things.


"Let's build a house here one day," she said, as she hugged her arms under the huge lump poking out of her tummy. She was a beautiful girl, auburn hair and a bell-toned laugh, so full of dreams and she loved her new husband with all her heart. They had seen the river out their car window as they drove along the backwoods road.

He smiled and ruffled her long hair. "We'll dream that dream and maybe it will come true one day." He couldn't wait for the baby to come. It didn't matter whether it was a boy or a girl as long as it was healthy and she was safe. His job at the gas station just kept them fed and clothed, but he loved her so much and would let her dream her dreams to keep her smiling.


they sprouted there in the quiet of the woods One of the little seeds fell into the river and washed away to the sea. The two tiny survivors began their new lives, inches apart, one on the bank of the river, one nearby in a clump of chokeberries. The sun warmed them, the damp ground nurtured them and they sprouted there in the quiet of the woods.


He stood by the edge of the rushing water, his knees buckling as he sobbed. He would have crumpled to the ground if not for the tiny new life he held wrapped in the sky blue blanket. He would forever grieve for her shining eyes, her happy laughter and her big dreams.

"I don't know what to do with you, little guy," he said sadly to the small, sweet, trusting face. "Your mama named you William. That's mighty fancy. I'll call you Billy. She said she'd watch over you. I'm not sure I can. I can't do it without her."


The builders came. They cut down trees and trampled everything in their way. Rich people from the city had discovered the quiet of the woods. The house went up, all redwood and glass, decks and a swimming pool. The man, the wife, they came separately, each with their own plans. He was planning on business meetings to woo clients; she was envisioning the little baby in her arms playing and laughing along the riverbank. Different dreams.


The two little sprouts grew The two little sprouts grew, one tall and strong in the full sun of the canopied woods, the other smaller, yet limber and green, turning its leaves toward the dappled light. They had escaped the workmen's boots and the digger's sharp teeth. Close, they grew together.


The playroom in the giant redwood house was full of everything a small boy could imagine, everything except the people he loved. His mother had moved from the city to the house by the river and seemed sad all the time, but his father very seldom came. Simon played with his puppy and all the expensive toys and wandered the riverbank. At first, his mother would walk with him by the river's edge, but now just his tutor. He liked Miss MaryAlice, but he wanted his mother. He wanted his father.


"Billy Larabee, pay attention!" the teacher said loudly. "You can't learn your ABC's if you don't listen."

"Billy Larabee, don't touch those books," the librarian whispered sharply, thinking to herself how dirty the skinny child was and how worthless the father.

"Billy! Bring me another beer," his father said in a slurred voice. "Just one more and then I can sleep."

Billy hadn't ever met his mother and was frightened of his father, neither thing helping a seven year old grow straight and tall. He spent his time waiting for school to let out so he could roam the woods. He felt close to something in the woods. He wasn't sure what that something was.


The gardener had planted flowers all around the beautiful house on the river, but he had left the riverbank natural. The two saplings grew, bowing their heads toward the ever warming sun. In the winter, they huddled as all trees do in the bending snow and freezing cold. In spring, they began to grow again. They were tall and waving in the spring breezes, their green razor-like leaves catching the sunlight.


"Simon, this is a magnolia tree. See the smooth white petals of the flower? They're almost the same color as your hair."

Simon loved the big old magnolia tree and didn't care what its name was. He didn't want white hair like a magnolia flower. He pushed his blond hair out of his face.  He just wanted to play by himself by the river. Miss MaryAlice always made everything into a school lesson. No one wanted to just explore and collect stuff and sit under the trees and dream.

Miss MaryAlice stepped down at the river's edge and her foot slid into the water. Pulling it up, her shoe was covered in mud.

"I have to go change my shoes, Simon. Stay right here. Don't move a muscle. I'll be right back."

Simon watched her scurry up the path and sucked in a huge breath. He was not going to move a muscle. He was going to stand right here and not move. Maybe he'd explode. Now that would be interesting. He stood, frozen in place, more out of curiosity than obedience.

"What cha doin'?" a voice piped from over in the oak trees.

Simon nearly fell over. He let out the giant breath and whirled around, his deep brown eyes searching for the voice. A small face was peeping out from around the trunk of a mammoth old chestnut oak. Streaked with dirt, the face reminded Simon of the elves in his storybooks, small pointy nose, wide green eyes, a mop of uncombed dark brown hair long in need of a trim, and from the look of him, in need of a bunch of really good food.

"Who are you?" he demanded, playing lord of the manor. "This is private property, you know."

The little face disappeared and Simon heard underbrush crack and break as the little trespasser ran away.

"No, wait!  I didn't mean that. Don't go," he yelled. "I was being stupid."

He watched as the small boy hesitated and then stopped in his flight along the riverbank. Turning back, he cocked his head to one side and stared at Simon. "Why did you say it then?"

"I don't know. I was being important, I guess."

He watched as the other boy's face cracked into a funny lopsided grin. "Well, quit. It's really dumb."

Simon wanted to be insulted, but he laughed instead. "You're very so right. We'll start over. Who are you?" He asked as he walked closer.

The smaller boy said, "I'm Billy Larabee." He stuck out his hand, looked down at it, tried to wipe the dirt off on the seat of his torn jeans and finally stuck it in the river. "My hands are kinda dirty," he murmured, embarrassment in his voice.

"I don't care," Simon smiled. "You're the first boy ever to be in my woods. I don't care if you're dirty."

Billy winced, always aware of his sad state, but decided Simon didn't mean anything by his words. "Okay," he answered.

He held out his hand again and Simon took it in a firm handshake like the grownups did, saying "I'm Simon Kincaid." They pumped arms up and down several times and then let go.

"Wanna see where a turtle laid eggs?" Billy asked, his face all alight with the excitement of having a friend.

"Sure!" Simon grinned, but then they heard,

"Simon, where did you get off to? Come here at once!"

"Is that your mama?" Billy whispered.

"No!" Simon whispered back. "That's just Miss MaryAlice. She's my teacher. I better go. She'll tell Mother and then I can't come to the river."

"Oh," Billy said sadly, his face crumpling. "Okay, bye."

"You will come back? Please promise."

Billy smiled, at first shyly, then sunshine spread across his face. "I usually am here. I play here every day."

Simon's eyes widened. "How come I've never seen you?"

"I didn't want you to," Billy laughed. "I did a good job, huh?"

"You bet. See you tomorrow. I'll try to get away from Miss MaryAlice. I want to see the turtle eggs."


Something happened by the river that day. Two strangers became friends, two lonely boys found a kindred spirit. Like the little birch trees, they turned their faces towards the sun for the warmth. Like the saplings, the boys felt the first nourishment, not from soil and water, but from knowing someone liked them just for who they are.


Billy had one pair of sneakers patched with duct tape, two faded shirts, one with the neckband raveled, and one pair of jeans whose knees had long given way.

Simon had a walk-in closet with hangers and hangers filled with Armani4Kids and Hugo Boss size 10 on one side and neatly folded stacks of t-shirts and cargo shorts in every color and style on the other.

Billy did poorly in school, not because he was dumb, it was just that no one cared. He sat through class, his stomach always rumbling, his skin itching and the teacher's words rolling around in the background. He ran home at three o'clock so he could go to the river til dark.

Simon could speak fluent French and Chinese and was working trig and calculus problems by the age of nine. His new tutor, Mr. Handley, kept him cooped up in the classroom for five hours every day before he could be excused to read out by the riverbank.

Billy's father still worked at the gas station and drank every night at the bar on the corner. He forgot about Billy.

Simon's mother and father divorced and she won the house on the river as part of her $12 million dollar settlement. He never saw his father and his mother entertained guests that he refused to call 'Uncle'. She forgot about Simon.


They picked off the orange trumpet flowers and sucked out the nectar.Simon picked a bunch of honeysuckle and offered it to Billy. They picked off the orange trumpet flowers and sucked out the nectar.

"Hey, Billy, look at these two trees."

"What about them?" Billy said as he turned his head toward Simon's voice. They were lying on their backs by the edge of the river watching the clouds and finding dragons and elephants and castles.

"They're like right together, side by side, you know. I wonder how they got here. I don't see any others like them."

Billy sat up to take a closer look. He looked carefully at the two young trees, one taller and wider in the trunk. "They're kinda like us, aren't they, Si?"

"How do you mean?"

" 'Cause see, that one is tall and muscley with shiny bright green leaves and the other one is kinda scrawny and some of its leaves are crinkled."

"Yeah, the puny one does kinda look like...............me," he laughed. Billy grabbed him and they rolled and scuffled in the dry grass.

Simon knew Billy was dirt poor. He wished he could give him everything he needed, but Simon knew Billy better than anyone else in the whole world. Billy wouldn't take stuff from him. He had lots of that pride Mr. Handley taught him about. Simon didn't care about Billy's shoes or his clothes, but he did wish that he could eat more. He was so skinny that his jeans just hung on him. Billy was right about the trees. One was stronger and shinier, but that didn't mean the other was less. They were just different little trees, like he and Billy were different.

"Well," Billy brushed grass and leaves off himself and shook his head, "I think those trees are kinda like us. I wonder how they will be when they grow up?"


Simon found Billy crying by the river's edge. He instinctively slid down on the ground beside him and wrapped his arms tightly around. Billy flinched and Simon drew back to see the bruises on Billy's face and the blood streaked across his shirt.

"What happened, Billy?" he said, patting him gently.

"Some of the boys at school kinda like to tease me sometimes," Billy said, trying to make light of his pain.

"This isn't teasing," Simon growled. Simon was taller and broader than most of the fourteen year olds at Billy's school. "Tell me who did this."

Billy turned his face into Simon's chest trying to muffle his tears. "Won't do any good. It's always like this."

"Why doesn't your father do something?" Simon knew the answer already, but it just made him so angry that Billy's father didn't even seem to know Billy was alive.

"Shhh," Billy said quietly. "Just talk to me about somewhere beautiful. Somewhere I can go in my head and be happy."

And so it began. Simon would tell Billy stories about faraway places; beautiful lands where the water was turquoise blue, the people were all kind and loving and they could ride on camels or donkeys or horses until time to sleep in hammocks by the sea.

Billy's favorite place was Greece. Simon showed him pictures of the fishing villages and the boats. Billy wanted to go there and live in a small white baked cottage by the edge of the sea, go barefoot and sell fish to the rich people. He dreamed of it at night as his father snored in the room next to him where they lived above the gas station.

Over the next few years, Billy would come to the river, come to Simon, to hear about the places he would go, the sights he would see. He was sometimes hurt, sometimes not. Simon knew that Billy's spirit was strong. Simon just wished he could help. He had everything money could buy and he was lonely unless Billy was with him; Billy had nothing except Simon. But they were alike because they had the one thing money couldn't buy. They had each other.


B.L. on the smaller one and S.K. on the tallerThe trees sat waiting in the hot afternoon sun, waiting to shade the boys who sat beneath them every day at dusk dreaming and laughing. The boys had carved their initials on the trunks of the trees, B.L. on the smaller one and S.K. on the taller.


It was time for Billy to graduate from high school. Simon had helped him through his classes and he was graduating in two weeks. There was no money for college and Billy had been too proud to work for a scholarship. He had missed Simon so much during the week, but he had worked an after school job for enough money to buy his school supplies and shoes. Billy had already filled out all the papers for his enlistment in the army and they laughed about how this was one way to see the world. Simon tried not to think about Billy getting hurt.

Simon would be leaving for college in August and they knew their time of dreaming by the river was coming to an end.

"Everything goes by in the blink of an eye," Billy sighed, as they sat under their trees, their backs propped up by the strong trunks. "It seems like yesterday, you yelled at me to get off your property."

Simon laughed, "You have been a huge pain in the butt, you know."

Funny how tears come when you least expect them. It suddenly struck Billy right in the center of his chest that he was leaving Simon. That he wouldn't hear Simon's laughter or his wisecracks or feel his caring or know how safe he was when he was sitting here. It amazed Billy the depth of the feelings. Simon was his whole family. Shyly, he edged away from where his shoulder had been resting against Simon's.

"What?" Simon asked.

"Si," Billy said softly, "I'm going to miss you so much."

Simon let out a breath. He didn't know how he was going to get through this part of goodbye. He had known for a long time how he felt about Billy, but it was his secret. He just knew if he could go on to college and meet other people, he'd get over these feelings. He wanted to stay here with Billy for the rest of his life, but he knew that wasn't possible. He was Billy's best friend. That was how it would always be.

Billy was confused by his emotions. He had just always figured that he and Simon would be together always. Now it was falling apart and he had no idea how to hold it together. Simon would go on and meet new better people and forget him. It was the way life worked.

Simon felt the tears well up in his eyes. He just let them run down his cheeks as he smiled. ""I'm going to miss you more than you'll ever know."


Simon had arranged for Mr. Handley to go to the high school and donate money anonymously for five students who had graduated despite heavy odds. The one stipulation was that one of the five had to be Billy Larabee. The five students were to be taken to the local department store and outfitted for graduation. The school was thrilled with the concept.

When Billy told him, he said he was not going to accept it, but Simon convinced him that it would just go to some other kid, so why not him? Besides, some rich guy had donated the money and he wouldn't miss it, right?

Billy laughed and finally agreed. The day of the graduation, Billy Larabee finally looked like all the other kids in his store bought suit with his long brown hair shiny and his face in a wide happy grin and, to Simon, he looked beautiful.


The last day they spent together down by the river was quiet. Neither boy could find the words he wanted to say. Billy was leaving for Ft. Bragg early in the morning and Simon was going to Europe for the summer before starting at Yale in the fall.

"I guess we'll both change now," Billy said, staring at the river as it rushed on its way.

"Yeah, time to grow up, I guess."  Simon felt the words pushing to come out. But, what would they accomplish? "I care about you, Billy, so much." "Don't go." They were too different now. It wasn't enough to care. Maybe one day...

Billy kept tight rein on his heart. He had nothing to offer. Nothing except keeping quiet and not ruining what they had. He would be the best army officer he could be and make Simon proud of him. It was all he had to offer.

Billy reached down and pulled off a bunch of honeysuckle. "Keep this close, Si. Remember me." Simon did the same. "You too, Billy."

The hug was stiff, the eyes looking anywhere but into each other's souls. If they had looked, it might have all been different. Billy wanted to just melt into Simon's arms and Simon wanted to hold on forever, but they both decided to be brave. To accept what had to be done. To lose the one person who made them whole. If the trees could have spoken, what would they have said? What had they seen all these years?


Billy was gone and Simon's flight took off for Heathrow in the morning. It was just as well. There was nothing here now.

Simon walked down to the river's edge and sat down by Billy's tree, rubbing his fingers across the roughly carved letters  B.L. ,missing Billy so much his heart hurt.

Simon smiled sadly and decided to do what he had wanted to from the beginning. He took his pocketknife out and under the S.K. he had carved on his tree, he caved a tiny plus and then B.L.

S. K.
  +
B. L.

He rubbed the edges with his thumb not wanting to walk away. Simon left the next morning and the trees were left alone on the bank of the river, waiting patiently.


They wrote, Simon's letters full of the beauty of foreign lands, telling Billy all the places he would show him one day. Billy's letters full of the training and the discipline, the harsh hours and the routine.

Billy never went back to the woods by the river. There was nothing there for him with Simon gone and then one day, he was shipped out and the beautiful land he visited was Vietnam. 

Simon went on to Yale with a college deferment and graduated in the top of his class, going on to become an investment banker. He wrote to Billy, but the letters became more difficult to write as their lives became so different. Simon could never quite put his finger on the reason he never felt satisfied, but he knew there was more to life than what he had.

Billy's letters were late and infrequent as they had to be very painstakingly written with a stub of pencil, sometimes carried for weeks by a fellow soldier and then screened by censors. They were always full of the beauty of the land and the dreams he had for when the war was over.

Simon married, not so much for love as for pressure and searching for what would make this feeling of loss disappear. They had a child they named Carter William, after her father and his best friend. Simon wanted to call the boy Billy, but Carter won out. In his heart he knew there would only be one Billy anyway.

Billy read Simon's letter and didn't cry. He knew it had been a matter of time until Simon lost his heart. It would have been better if he had cried, sobbed as his heart broke. But he kept it inside as he always had.

He never went on R&R with the others. He just held onto his broken heart. It wasn't that he wanted sex from another man; it was that he wanted Simon. It was better by far to just stay quiet as he always had.

Simon's wife divorced him. She hadn't really tried. He hadn't either. They both loved the boy and would do their best by him. She had just known he had secrets he'd never share, but had hoped he would get past them. He never did. He didn't write to tell Billy. He was ashamed of his failure.

Billy was wounded when a land mine exploded and killed his two buddies. The scar on his face would always be a reminder that he had been saved. He just wondered for what???

He served out his years and then came home, not to his father's, but to a small rented cabin by the river's edge. He would walk along the river remembering, hearing Simon laugh. He found the letters carved on the tree and sat for hours tracing the letters with his fingertips. Simon had carved this? He would have jumped to his feet, and run to Simon, but Simon was married. Simon had a child. This was just another obstacle for him to overcome. He would always love Simon, but what they had was lost.

He carved S.K. under his initials on the smaller of the two trees and left them there.

B.L.
  +
S.K.


The trees were almost complete, but the boys who had sat beneath them staring up at the sky and dreaming together were lost. So many years, so much time, but things change in the blink of an eye.


Simon's mother died and he inherited the redwood house on the river. He'd never been back after the letters from Billy had stopped. He knew that Billy was all right and he hoped he had gone on with his life. There was nothing Simon could offer him.

The day Simon returned to the old house, he stepped out onto the back deck and saw the two birch trees standing so close by the water's edge. He walked down the path and knelt beside the big trunks. The bark had peeled and the trees had added more rings but the letters were still visible. He saw where he had added the B.L. to his tree, but then he saw the S.K. added under Billy's initials on the other tree. His eyes darted back and forth from one tree to the other. Billy had been here? Billy had carved S.K. on his tree? That meant..................Is that what that meant?

He heard a soft voice behind him. "What cha doin'?"

He rose quickly and smiled as if his heart would fly out of his chest. "Billy?" The tears crested and fell as he opened his arms wide. No matter what those initials meant, here was Billy...his Billy... and he had to hold onto him.

They met in the middle of the path, Billy no longer the skinny little boy, but a tall strong soldier with a scar running down his cheek. Simon, no longer a small blond haired boy, but a handsome wealthy man with his heart in his eyes.

Suddenly shy, they both fell back a step. "You look good," Simon said, gently touching the scar.

"Yeah, sure," Billy laughed. "Just another memento for me. You look great though."

So many questions......so much riding on the answers.

"You living around here now?"

"I'm renting a little place down the river aways. You here with your family?"

Simon knew it was time for the truth. "I'm here alone. My wife divorced me about two years ago."

Billy frowned. "You never said."

"I was embarrassed to tell you."

"Looks like we have a lot to catch up on," Billy sighed, his face puzzled. "Why didn't you write and tell me that, Simon?"

Simon did the only thing he could. He turned and looked at the trees. "I think we do need to talk."

the trees sat patiently waitingThey started walking down the path back to the river's edge where the trees sat patiently waiting. As they walked, Simon felt Billy's hand brush his and he slid his fingers to lace theirs together.

"When I came home and I saw the initials you had carved, I didn't know what to think," Billy stammered. "I knew you were married and I didn't....I just didn't know."

Simon took a long look inside himself. "I was never happy when I was married. I am ashamed of how weak I was. I think," he paused and forced himself to look into Billy's eyes, "I think I was so afraid of what I felt for you that I ran into marriage with the first person who found me."

"You were afraid of me?" Billy asked, astonished.

"No, not of you, of what I felt every time I looked at you, every time I touched you."

Billy tugged on Simon's hand and they sat down to lean against their trees. It seemed right that they should get all this out here where it had all begun. "Did you feel this way back when we were growing up?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"I was terrified I'd lose you."

Billy smiled his lopsided grin, "You couldn't lose me."

"Do you...?"

"Lord, yes."

"We have so much to talk.........................."

"Not now. Now I want to just hold onto you and maybe kinda try this on for size." Awkwardly, Billy moved closer to Simon and just brushed his cheek against Simon's. "I've always wanted to do that."

When their mouths finally came together, it was gentle, a searching, a tentative quest that finally exploded. What had never felt right for either of them with a woman felt exactly right with each other.  It didn't matter what had been done in the years they had lost. It only mattered that they had found each other now.

"God, how could we have been so stupid?" Simon groaned.

"Hey, cut me a break, I thought you were married."

"Well, I was hiding."

"That was dumb, so quit!" Billy laughed, remembering the day they met.

Simon leaned in and kissed Billy's scar. "Billy?"

"Yeah?"

Simon took a deep breath. "I umm......I missed you so much."

"That is not what you were going to say," Billy laughed.

"No," Simon tried again. "Billy Larabee, I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you."

"Now, that's much better," Billy grinned.

"Hey!"

"Oh, you need a reply?" He smiled that lopsided smile and Simon could see that little boy shining out of Billy's green eyes. "I love you, Simon Kincaid. I have loved you since the first day I watched you walking along with your nanny. It's always been you."

"Wait, I didn't have a nanny," Simon argued, then felt Billy tug him close. "Oh well, not important."

That night, they moved all of Billy's things to the redwood house on the river and sat out on the back deck until the sun set behind the birch trees. Shy, but feeling like the whole world had opened up for them, Billy and Simon wanted to be as close as two people can be. The world could wait on them now. They had waited long enough.


From that day on, they were never separated. Too much time had been wasted on false fronts and silly silences. Never again would either of them keep anything back, good or bad. Simon was Billy's family and Billy was Simon's. They didn't need anyone else. Billy took to holding onto Simon's back pocket as they walked along the river's edge.

Carter came to visit every summer and totally enjoyed the company of his two favorite dads. If he learned anything from them it was to be honest with yourself and take the cards as they fall. They told him their story during the summer of his 16th year and his comment was, "You dopes. All that time you wasted." Carter would be fine.

Billy got a job woodworking at the sawmill nearby. He loved the smell of the woodchips and loved to work with the loblolly pine. Simon never said a word, knowing about Billy's pride.

One of Simon's most treasured memories was the summer they went to Greece. They rented Billy's little white washed cottage by the sea and spent their time drinking vine and catching fish for the rich people. Oh, and going barefoot. Billy's favorite memory of Greece was always the way the white curtains blew gently in the breeze across the bed as he watched Simon's eyes when they made love. At first, it had troubled Billy that Simon cried when they loved, but he grew to understand that Simon was just so happy.


The years rolled by one after another, building memories, building trust.

Billy's brown hair, always worn short, was spreckled with white and Simon's thinned out on top. They liked to joke that hair quit growing where it used to and started growing in the oddest new places.

They liked to look in their memory box and take out the souvenirs from all their trips to beautiful places where the water was turquoise blue, the people had mostly all been kind and loving, they had ridden on camels and donkeys and horses and slept in hammocks by the sea. Billy's favorite would always be the picture of them taken by a neighbor in front of the little cottage in Greece, Simon in white shorts, his chest bare and golden brown. Billy always wore a loose white cotton shirt and white shorts and he always managed to have hold of Simon's back pocket.  

"So many beautiful places, Si," Billy would say softly, "But none as beautiful as right here." They would walk out on the back deck to watch the sun come up or the moon to appear in the sky, the smell of honeysuckle filling the night air.

"I always kept the scent of honeysuckle in my mind," Simon replied. "I never left it or you behind."

Two boys not ready to say how they felt. Two men finally grown, throwing caution to the winds and finding that the caution had robbed them of years of happiness. Finally, at peace.


Simon and Billy sat at the edge of the river, their bare feet under the cold water, the way they had sat for years. The only difference was that Billy was sick. He had finally gone to the doctor about the headaches and the results were dire. He hadn't told Simon yet and couldn't think of how to do it. They had been together now for thirty-seven years and he knew he had to tell him. He just didn't want to see the look in Simon's eyes, the fear, the pain. Billy wouldn't be here to take care of him. Simon would have to do this alone.

"Si, I have something not so good to tell you."

Simon knew. He didn't know what, he just knew. He had watched Billy struggle with this and wanted to help him now. He was his lover, his brother, his father, but most of all, he was Billy's best friend.

"The headaches? How long?"

Billy sighed and reached for Simon's hand. He heard Simon groan deep in his throat and a choking sound escaped before he could silence it.

"I'll be right here. You know that," Simon whispered.

"You always have been. It's all been good, you know, even if it was just the blink of an eye." They sat looking out over the water as the sun danced on the sparkling currents.


Simon held the little urn in his hands. He had always been easy to cry and it seemed that there was no bottom to his well of tears. He wanted to do as Billy had asked and he would, but he just couldn't do it today. Tomorrow would be soon enough. After all, his sweetheart was gone and tomorrow would be just another day.

Carter found his father like that, sitting at the base of the old birch trees down by the water. He sat beside him quietly and rubbed his shoulders. He could only imagine what it must feel like to lose a love as strong as his dad and Billy.

"Dad, come on back up to the house. Billy wouldn't want you out here in the damp twilight air."

"I have to do what Billy asked. I'm being a foolish old man, but I can't seem let him go."

Carter hugged his dad. "Billy would never ask more than you can do. You know that. Maybe I could help you."

Simon let Carter help him up, feeling every one of his 72 years. He waited until just as the sun began to set, their favorite time of the day, opened the little vessel and let the breeze carry Billy out into the honeysuckle heavy air to settle around the base of the birch trees.

"I love you, Billy Larabee," he said, his voice clear and strong. "I have always loved you and will love you long after I die."

Carter put his arm around his father's shoulders and they walked back up the path towards the house.

"Carter," Simon murmured, "When it's my time, please do the same for me. I will be with Billy and we will be watching and smiling down on you."

Carter squeezed his arm tightly in reply.


Simon was a tough old guy and had 86 rings on his heartwood before Carter had to make good on his promise. He had lived quietly in the house he'd shared with Billy and had even gone back to Greece one more time to the little cottage by the sea. It wasn't the same without Billy and he hadn't journeyed away from home again.

Carter and his wife had lived in the redwood house by the river for years looking after his father. Their grandson Willy was staying the summer and had loved his great grandpa with all his young heart. He wanted to help Grandpa Carter today. He promised to be strong.

Willy knew the story of his great grandpa Simon and Billy. He just wanted his great grandpa to be happy. They walked down the well-worn path, Willy carrying the little silver urn carefully in his hands.

Carter stood quietly looking out over the water and remembering that day years ago when he and Dad had stood here together. He had promised to do this for Dad, for Billy. He looked up and smiled through his tears.

"You guys are laughing, aren't you? Billy has hold of your back pocket and you're just grinning like the devil up there. Well, I promised I'd take care of this for you and I've even got Willy here to help."

Willy hesitated and then said, "Hi, Great Grandpa." And then shyly, "Hi, Billy."

"They waited until the sun had just begun to set, opened the little container and watched as the breeze whisked Simon through the evening air to settle around the base of the old birch trees.

"I love both of you so much," Carter whispered. "You caught the gold ring and held on tight. God bless and happy eternity. I hope I see you when it's my turn."

It seemed as if the honeysuckle was so heavy in the air that night that it could almost have danced alone. Carter, his wife and young Willy sat around the kitchen table looking at the treasures in Simon's and Billy's souvenir box.

"What will we do with these things?"

"I want them, Grandpa," Willy said, his voice full of respect. "I'll keep them safe and maybe one day like Great Grandpa and Billy, I'll go where the water is turquoise blue, the people are caring and kind, I can ride on camels, or donkeys or horses and sleep in a hammock by the sea. Do you think Great Grandpa and Billy would mind if I keep their treasures?"

"I think, no, I know, that your Great Grandpa and Billy would love for you to keep their treasures safe."


The house has been closed up for years now. Willy and his new bride moved in just last week. There's a lot of repair work to be done, but the house is solid. They stood out on the back deck and looked out over the river. Willy rubbed her back where it ached from the weight of the baby.

As they walked carefully over the root strewn path, Willy came to a stop and stared.

"What?"

He knew he was remembering wrong. Those two trees hadn't looked like that when he had been here last. How on earth...........?

The leaves of the two tall birch trees fluttered, their trunks intertwined as if giant arms enfolded them. When Willy walked close, he saw that the initials carved all those years ago were now pressed together and the bark had formed a protective circle around the letters.

"Great Grandpa....Billy......have you seen this? Your trees have.........."

The wind picked up and the scent of honeysuckle rose in the air as if two young boys had just picked bunches and were sucking out the nectar while they found animals and giant creatures in the clouds. Simon and Billy would always live on and life would move just as quickly in just the blink of an eye.

Simon and Billy would always live on and life would move just as quickly in just the blink of an eye

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