The post office across from work was bustling with the “after work crowd”. I ran my fingers over the rosebud covered stationary; it was a stark contrast to the grey sky. My heart is beating hard, the way it always does when I think of him too long, of Billy.
I finally worked up the courage to write him. This past year he did something I never imagined, he left, left the parties, the wandering, and me. There were whispers about jail, but no one really knew. However, it wasn’t until the first letter that I got a real answer. The address came from Parris Island, he had joined the Marines. Every week or so I would get three or four letters from him, each one telling me a story and asking me how I was. Sometimes the letters were rambling, others were sweet. The butterflies weren’t dead, just dormant. Every little batch of letters sent a few more swirling through my stomach. It had been a long while since I heard from him, too long since his last letter. I smiled down at the dainty paper in spite of myself. Eyeing the slightly larger than necessary return address, a silent admission that I didn’t want his letters to stop.
The first time I saw Billy Navarro, I thought he was the most handsome man I had ever seen. In all of my barely eighteen years, I had never felt the butterflies in my stomach the girls at my high school talked about until the moment I saw him smiling down at me. There was nothing quite like that feeling. Unfortunately, the moment those Butterflies began to truly soar was the moment they sank with my stomach and my heart. Billy decided to start talking. That day was something I will never forget.
I was baking pies for my churches Fourth of July cookout, my cousin Nikko had just passed the Bar Exam and his motto of “Work hard, play hard” was in full effect as he slept last night off. Just as I pulled the filling for Banana cream off of the stove, the doorbell rang. I had been expecting a few ladies from my Bible study group later that day and thought nothing of the time, Nikko very seldom brought his friends over (and to say I was curious would be an understatement).
With my Nanny’s teachings on being a hostess ringing the back of my head I answered with a smile. It wasn’t a group of housewives standing on the other side of the screen door, but it was a giant of a man. He had to be at least a foot taller than me, long and lean in a pair of frayed cargo pants and tank top that revealed shoulders and biceps covered in tattoos. Dark stubble covered his jaw and shaggy obsidian color barely colored green eyes that seemed to be dancing in amusement. Butterflies, it was the only thought that came to mind as I looked up at him with a smile frozen on my face, swirling as full lips formed a grin that would rival the Cheshire Cats. As I struggled to find the words, he saved me.
“Hey, Sweet Thing.” he started deeply his eyes roaming over me in a way I’d never seen before “I’m Billy, a friend of Nikko’s and you are?”
“I have a name, thank you for asking” I thought, my smile faltering along with the butterflies. It would be wrong to rude Nikko’s friend. Besides, this was the south, everyone used terms of endearment.
“Oh, My name is Isabella,” I responded gently in the face of his boldness “pleasure to meet you, Billy. Would you like to come inside? I’ll get you a glass of Lemonade.”
“I’ll come anywhere you want me to, Sweet Thing.” He answered without hesitation as he opened the screen door that had once served as my barrier.
Something in the way he looked at me told me he wasn’t talking about the house.
Just like that, everything Nikko had ever told me came into the back of my mind.
“I love you, but those goofy Christian books you read are one step above Disney Movies. Those books aren’t real, guys are dogs, all of them. That includes those polo and khaki-wearing wusses from your church. They might be nice, Hon, but they’re still guys and they only want one thing. They’ll chase your skirt and lie their butts off to have a shot at you.”
With every step I took towards the kitchen, I could feel his eyes burning into me, and another butterfly died. Preparing his glass was a bit of a reprieve, if I was busy I didn’t have to talk. The weight of the pitcher and the cool glass gave me something to focus on other than his smile. Remembering my lessons, I mustered a small smile and handed him a glass.
“Well thank you kindly, Sweet Thing, looks delicious.” He said with a wink before taking the glass from me as he let his fingers run over mine and taking a long sip. I kept racking my brain to make a connection; there was only one Billy that my cousin mentioned. Nikko often described him as “a dude with his own urban legends”, a laundry list of debauchery so horrifying Nikko would stop himself whenever he saw I was close by. Those words sent warning bell off in my head, I knew what I had to do.
“You’re very welcome, Billy. It was nice meeting you.” I said tightly as I walked away.
I didn’t stay long enough to get a response, nor did I tell Nikko anything past announcing his guest’s arrival. They were gone when I returned to meet my guests, and that was all that mattered to me. Suddenly, Billy started showing up at the house more, even going so far as to helping Nikko with odd jobs. Of course, that was when he wasn’t finding sneaky was to chase after me all summer, until he landed himself on my doorstep and scared me half to death, before I spoke so cruelly to him. Losing my temper is something I seldom do, and it bothered me that I was never able to apologize. Shaking the thought from my mind, I drop the letter in the slot and work my way past the crowd. The hustle of the lines and the cool wind blowing threw the doors bring me back to the moment, and I can’t help but wonder if he’ll get the letter. All I had was a base name from his last letter, and as I settle into the driver seat all I can do is say a silent prayer that he will get it. His last letter, the one I always carry with me, the grey and white paper slips in between my fingers easily as if it wanted to come out on it’s own accord. Greeted by his now all to familiar scrawl, I can’t help but smile.
Dear Esmerelda, 15 Nov 2015
How are you, still studying hard? Happy Graduation (again) I hear this year you take your final classes then you’ll be a nurse. I’ll bet you’ll knock ‘em dead, and look real nice in those scrubs to boot (just teasing!…mostly). I know I tease you too much, always have, but if you knew how cute you look when you blush you might understand (case in point). I know it’s been a while since my last letter, but Crucible Week didn’t give me mucth time. It was fun, that’s the best way to describe it (ha ha). The DIs are tough, but some of the things they say are hilarious! I know you don’t like cursing, so you might not laugh very much, but I’ve done more than my fair share of push-ups at first over not being able to keep a straight face. When I need to stay focused though, I close my eyes and think of you. You keep me going, Sweet Esme. I have to go now, sorry this one is so short!
“You keep me going, Sweet Esme” The butterflies soared and tumbled in my belly just as the storm broke, I didn’t want them to go away. All I could do was pray that my letter would a way to him. Lord, let me find out soon.
I have no right to feel sorry for myself that is the short and simple reality of the situation. It is the logical part of my brain that has a moment to voice it’s opinion before my demons come back to haunt me. They burn deep inside my gut as look out at the skyline and remember her, I remember my sweet Esme.
Esmerelda Grace Warren wasn’t like the other girls, I knew that the first time I saw her. On a muggy summer day, she answered my boy Nikko’s door in a flower covered sundress and a lace covered apron. Her chestnut hair shown in the sunlight and bright blue eyes sparkled like diamonds, and she smiled at me. She didn’t smile at me with ambition or intentions, just warmth and sweetness that was uniquely hers. It wasn’t her ass or her tits that did it for me, it was those diamond eyes and sweet voice that welcomed me inside and got me a glass of lemonade, she was different…and I was to stupid to understand just how different.
The look on her face when I fed her that first sleazy line was something so cringeworthy I still get nauseated thinking about it, her diamonds turned to storm clouds as she ever so politely excused herself. She never looked at me again, never smiled, and when I walked into a room she left. For the first time since puberty looked at me in disgust, and even worse a little fear. I never forgot that look she gave me and it drove me insane, there was no getting her out of my head. No matter how drunk or high I got or curvy brunettes I plowed through the mattress, there was no killing that ache to make things right
I knew that before that summer was over I had to make Isa smile at me again, with that same warmth and open heart that she did when I saw her that first time, I was bound and determined. Unfortunately, I was also half a bottle deep in a fifth of Jim Beam. For the life of me, I can’t recall exactly how I ended up there, but I woke up the next morning freshly showered on soft sheets that smelled of Lilacs and Nectarine to that sweet voice that haunted me.
“Don’t move too much, you took a nasty fall”
I grumbled my compliance and laid my pounding head back down.
“You’re lucky Nikko wasn’t here, or there would have been some real trouble for making me take care of you.” She said in mild annoyance, placing a bottle of water to my lips.
I got to really look at her then as I let the cool water run down my throat, she was sitting on the edge of the mattress. Her hair was mussed from sleep and she was wrapped in a soft white bathrobe, I was kicking myself for being jealous of a bathrobe.Those diamond eyes were still storm clouds even though her dark brows were knitted in concern. I had hope.
“I guess you don’t hate me as much as thought, huh, darlin’?” I rasped, giving her a small half smile.
Then, just like that, the same old disgust returned.
“Are you always this unbelievably arrogant? I don’t know what you see yourself as, Billy Navarro, but not every girl is some bimbo just waiting for your attention. If you must know, I’m a nurse…at least that’s what I’m studying to be and it would have been unethical for me to let you lay passed out on my front porch wreaking of sex and whiskey in a puddle of your own fecal matter to choke on your own puke.” She said softly, her voice remaining even despite the fire burning underneath of it. If I hadn’t just been ripped a new one in the most graceful, classy way possible…I would have been seriously turned on.
I reacted the only way I knew how to react to a beautiful woman
“What do you see me as, Sweet Thing?” I asked as I picked myself up, enjoying the way her hackles were rising at the pet name she hated.
“Me? Billy, I see you as a pervert and a drunk with no goals and crappy priorities. You have no respect for anything or anyone including yourself. You’re selfish and you pass yourself around like, like, like, it’s nothing. You’re a jerk, Billy Navarro, and never in a million years would I want someone as cruel or irreverent as you!” She finished with deep heavy breathes before she stormed out of the room and never looked back.
I had badgered Nikko about her enough to know that she didn’t have a cruel word to say about anyone, nope, my girl never lost her temper. Yet, she had just destroyed me. It was something that I couldn’t quite put into words, I didn’t know this girl, what did I care what she thought? I was Billy Fucking Navarro, I could have any number of girls at this house and in this bed with a single text message. None of those girls had eyes that sparkled like diamonds or a smile full of enough love for ten people. It made me ache as her words echoed in the back of my head, I really didn’t care. In fact, I lived by the words “I don’t give a damn” like it was something to be proud of. Only, with Isa, I did give a damn. She was right though, I wasn’t good enough for her…but I knew I could be.
I didn’t get to tell her that, when I finally left her bed, she was gone. I wanted to say it before I went to the recruiting office, I wanted say it before I left for Parris Island. Basic training didn’t leave me much time to do much, but I wrote her every chance I got. Each letter told her everything and nothing, but I never told her writing to her was the one thing I looked forward to at the end of the day. She was the only person I had to write to, in spite of the fact that I had tons of people that I partied with I never had a real friend. I had people that would have let me lay in my own shit and choke on puke while they took pictures and laughed. No, Isa was the one trace of light in that whole situation. I didn’t have a picture of her, but I had that first time I saw her imprinted in the back of my mind. I imagined holding her when I graduated, I knew I wasn’t good enough, but I was getting better everyday. It was what motivated me and when that picture started to fade, I got a letter, the one I’m staring at now.
Or should I say Private Navarro…is that what the Marines call it? How are you? I hope you are well. Thank you for all of your lovely letters, I thought after how ugly I was to you the last time I saw you, I would be the absolute last person you wouldn’t want to write to. Then again you always seem to be so full of surprises. I’m so sorry for the horrible names I called you, I was frightened. You always knew how to make an entrance and that night was no exception, I was scared of you choking, I stayed up the whole night…
Billy, please don’t think you aren’t special, you are! I’m so, so very proud of you. Although it’s so quiet without you here, it is too quiet. We miss you, Billy, I miss you. I don’t know when or if you’ll get this, but just know you’re always in my thoughts and prayers.
I have no right to feel sorry for myself, it’s not like this is some Dear John letter, but the last thing I want Isa to be is my friend, I want her to be my girl…hell, she IS my girl, even if she doesn’t know it yet. I won’t make the same mistake, I’m going to do this the right way…the painfully right way. If that means I have to put what would feel good aside in favor of what she needs, so be it.
I’m not good enough for you now, Esme…but soon real, real, real soon.