With his tongue too big for his mouth, Billy stumbled through “I’ll…well, I’ll…I guess we’ll talk sometime soon…” Fuck, what was he supposed to say? “I mean, I guess this is…” This can’t be goodbye. “Take it easy—”
René reached across the seat. Billy jumped slightly. Gooseflesh poked up on his skin. René’s palms melted on Billy’s cheeks, and his mouth was claimed by the silkiest lips he’d ever caressed. A surge of shock blasted through Billy’s veins. The kiss was gentle, barely a whisper but enough to capture him in a moment of time that stood still.
The silky mouth that he gently explored vanished, leaving him puckering the air. He cracked his lids open to René’s tormented gaze. Billy was engulfed in an embrace constricting enough to break his ribs. René’s cheek feathered Billy’s. Cozy. A true fire on a cold night. He was about ready to melt all over René’s chest.
“I love you.” Moist steam peppered René’s crackling whisper. “You take care of yourself. Okay? If you need me, call. Promise?”
“I…I…I will.” Billy kept his cheek on René’s. His thundering heart galloped madly to catch up to his shaky breaths.
“Remember what we talked about? You’re gonna own the school and make the best of this, right?” They still remained locked in their embrace.
Billy’s stiff neck could use a good oiling because he couldn’t get his head to nod.
“Renny!” The General’s deep baritone pretty much smacked the truck’s interior.
“I gotta go.” René untangled his arms from Billy’s death grip. His deep stare cut through the chill on Billy’s skin and wrapped him with warm comfort. “I’ll be waving when we take off. Okay?” He slid from the truck.
Even though the back door gently closed, René’s familiar crisp, clean scent lingered in the cab. Billy scrambled to his side of the vehicle and pressed his face to the window.
René was helping Mr. Oshawee with the mounds of luggage. Mrs. O came out of the airport, pushing a baggage cart. René loaded the first suitcase onto the contraption. Once the last piece of luggage was plopped on the cart, he wheeled off for the entrance doors, never looking back.
Shaking, Billy wormed his way from the back seat and into the front. Under any other circumstance, he’d be excited about driving Mr. O’s boss vehicle. Not today.
He wriggled his fingers into his shirt and withdrew the locket. People passed in front of the windshield. Some were laughing, others talking. He snapped open the dog tag to a picture of friendship and love, their eyes full of delight, big smiles, cheeks brushing, and René’s slightly broad chin on Billy’s shoulder.
The lump in Billy’s throat was a boulder threatening to careen down a steep hill. Somehow, René had predicted their future by giving Billy the most precious gift possible that summed up what they’d shared for over a year and a half. Maybe René had known the time they’d borrowed was coming to an end.
From the airport and back to the reserve, Billy couldn’t stop the tears sliding from his eyes. He kept glancing at the clock. The Oshawees’ flight left in an hour. Once he pulled into the garage and parked the truck, he made his way toward the house. His knees were about to give out as he ascended the deck stairs and headed into the mudroom. He wobbled his way upstairs and left the keys on the chest of drawers in the royal chamber.
His feet wouldn’t stop moving. Anxiety’s snarling claws were ready to cut through his skin. He had to get outside and do something. Anything. He bolted down the stairs, snatched a drink from the mini fridge in the butler pantry, and ran for the deck.
So far, he’d killed a half an hour. In another half hour, René would be flying away until June.
Even though January’s cold chill nipped at Billy’s exposed skin, he remained outside for the thirty minutes in the minus twenty-five temperature. His teeth rattled. He hugged himself to keep warm.
The plane appeared. The roar of the engine filled the air. All he could see was the tail, because René was flying east over Lake Superior. Through tear-filled eyes, Billy gazed up at the bright sky. He lifted his hand and waved.
You said you’d be waving. Wave back. Wave back.
He never stopping staring at the plane until the sleek white vessel disappeared from his line of vision.
René was gone.
Billy bowed his head.