March. March what though? March 14? 16? He couldn't remember. It had been too long cooped up in four walls, same situation, same bed, TV, makeshift workstation, kitchen cupboards. Same everything for almost a year.
Demetrio nervously patted his face with a towel, turning it to the right, then left, then right again. Was it “in” to look clean-shaven? Or did he now look too stiff and formal? Should he have left a five-o’clock-shadow? Shrugging, he swished the comb through his auburn-tinted brown hair one more time. It was just hair. It did what it wanted, when it wanted, and what it wanted at that moment was simply to take a different direction all over his head. He should probably just get a textured crop. Yes, sophisticated but relaxed. Or was that too out-of-style now?
Demetrio threw his comb down and grunted. Who cared? He had been the prissiest one of his brothers growing up, always very particular, wanting to impress the girls but never exactly knowing how. Fortunately he never had to try very hard. Although he was no football jock, he was intelligent and outgoing. Girls always found it easy to talk to him, because he was a great listener, and had a soft heart. Too soft, so his older brother Rio told him. Not infrequently finding himself gypped.
It was the first date Demetrio had tried in over a year. An entire year of waking up in the same clothes he’d worn the day before, making a very hurried breakfast and plopping in front of his remote-working station in his studio apartment, usually ready for his work day barely 2 minutes before login time, still in his pajamas. After clocking out, he enjoyed a good workout in Rio's basement, surrounded by screaming kids, followed by one of Rio’s wife’s delicious home-cooked meals, then home again. Each evening, he watched his favorite TV show, worked on his expose on using bamboo as a biodegradable option instead of trees for disposable products, and then bed.
The line of a song he’d laughed over recently on YouTube flitted through his mind… “I’ve forgotten how to socialize...bumped into my auntie on the street, and instead of asking ‘How are you?’ I said ‘I’m nice to meet!’ That’s not even a sentence - what?!” Demetrio snickered again thinking about it. He really wished Jazz Emu would make more songs. So relatable.
He’d been chatting with various girls virtually for about 4 months out of the 9 he’d spent home-bound, in and out of “Covid prison”. When he mentioned meeting one of them back in October last year she had quickly dropped him like a street rodent. Yep, that’s when he realized he had to wait a while longer to even say the phrase “go out for”.
So this was really the first successful dating scheme in 10 months, if he counted when he broke up with Penny. Demetrio cringed at the thought of finding out she had been double-timing him with his cousin Jake. Nope, better change that subject, he thought to himself.
For a moment, Demetrio thought about his brother’s family. Rio’s brood was such a happy, noisy bunch. He couldn’t imagine Rio without them all. It sure would be nice to have a family like that. But fatherhood would definitely be a big undertaking. A person would literally have more than one soul to shape and teach and lead. Nothing to be taken lightly.
Demetrio swung his key ring around his finger and locked his apartment. Pausing for a moment, he took out his cellphone and looked again at the smiling face of the young woman he was supposed to meet. Bilianne was a red-head. She looked very sure of herself in a matter-of-fact way. He loved the way she brought him into her day with a comment here, a comment there. She was sweet, funny, very smart and a little timid. He liked that. He hoped she’d like him.
Bilianne reached into her purse and ran a little lipstick over her lips to freshen her appearance, patted her hair, and got out of her car to wait at the park bench at 5th and Holliday Street. It was a gorgeous March day! The sun was playing tag in the trees with the wind, and little shoots of grass were poking their heads out of the winter-hardened soil. Every now and again, Bilianne caught a glimpse of a few violets in a cluster. Picking one, she smiled and tucked it into her hair. Would he like it? Maybe he’d think it was foolish…
Bilianne glanced at the photo of Demetrio. Outside of his Antonio Cupo good looks, she really had enjoyed getting to know him over the online dating chat room. The scandalous aspect of using virtual means to get to know people had dimmed somewhat among her family the past year, as it had been the only means any of them had to keep in touch. Her sister had teased her when she first showed a picture of Demetrio. Pretending at first to not care very much, Bilianne had to admit eventually that she liked him a lot. He was a very out-of-the-box thinker, and seemed to have a perspective on life and the world that drew her in.
Demetrio immediately saw the curly red hair being blown in the wind. Nervously, he pulled at his collar. He was definitely overdressed for a walk in the park, but she was also dressed for an old-fashioned date, so he felt more relaxed.
Clearing his throat, he reached out his hand. “Hi, I’m Demetrio, and you’re…”
“Bilianne, yes, that’s me!” Bilianne’s light, infectious laughter made Demetrio smile. “Howdy, so glad you found me. How do you like this spring sunshine?”
“It’s great! Glad it isn’t snowing,” Demetrio grinned.
The two walked and talked, down a little winding path between sugar maples which were resplendent in the fall, but which were just now coming out with new green leaves. The couple paused on a bridge overlooking the creek, which had just recently thawed enough to start its happy gurgle toward the dam several miles away.
“I’m sorry if...if I’m a little awkward,” Bilianne started to apologize. “I feel like it’s been so long since I went out with someone that I’ve forgotten how to make conversation!”
“That’s about right, that is, I feel the same way,” agreed Demetrio. “Look...uh, you mind if I take you to lunch? I know of a little place that is open to sit-down right now.”
“That would be lovely!” Bilianne dimpled.
The next week, they held hands and ate popcorn over the first rom-com movie to reopen the local theater. The week after that, it was a biking trip with some friends from one end of the state to the other. (Both of them took vacation days for that one.)
Weeks flew into months, months of a slowly deepening admiration and shy awakening to the awareness that each did not want to go a day without hearing the other’s voice or seeing the other’s face.
One summer evening, Bilianne, Demetrio, Rio and his wife Macy sat on porch chairs, sipping sweet iced tea, chatting and laughing, watching fireflies blink and twinkle in the darkness. Demetrio and Rio got up and went inside to see a new gadget Rio had bought, leaving the two women on the porch.
“So, how is it? Do you think...will both of you go the next level any time? Are you thinking of getting married?” Macy grinned, poking at Bilianne in a good-natured way.
Bilianne smiled. “Well...I’ve wondered lately if he’s thought about getting married. I really can’t imagine life without him...but there’s something I don’t know what to do with...I need to tell him, but...I don’t know how.”
Macy sobered. “You’re welcome to share...is it very important? Would it be something that could affect both of you in the future?”
Bilianne nodded and swallowed. “I’m...I have a daughter.”
Macy blinked hard. “A daughter?” she repeated disbelievingly. “I don’t remember you mentioning - “
“I didn’t. I wanted to see how this relationship would go first before I bring my daughter into the picture. You see...I was only seventeen when it happened. Believe me it wasn’t by my choosing either.”
Bilianne took a deep breath. “I was dating a guy from my high school. After a dance in my junior year, he took me out in his cousin’s pickup truck to what I thought was just going to be a good old-fashioned looking at the stars over a thermos of hot chocolate fall evening. Well, it was much more than I expected...or wished. I tried to yell for help but we were in the middle of nowhere…”
Macy covered Bilianne’s hand with hers. “I’m so sorry…”
“My parents helped me raise my daughter, and right now she’s staying with them until I get a better place. I had just accepted a nice-paying job when I got laid off last year due to Covid, so I’ve been having to make ends meet just for myself, doing low-paying essential jobs until I can get back a better paid one and support my daughter.”
“What’s her name?” Macy asked softly.
“Twilight.” Bilianne brushed back a tear. “I love her to death, and don’t want anyone to hurt her. That’s why I wanted to just test this relationship out with Demetrio...but…”
“You’re wondering if he wants to be a dad?” Macy finished Bilianne’s thought.
“Yeah,” she agreed quietly. “Twilight needs someone who is going to respect and treasure her every day of her life.”
“I know. If I can say this, I’ve known Demetrio since his brother Rio and I were dating in high school and Demetrio was only in junior high. He’s the kindest, nicest young man I’ve ever met outside of Rio. Our children love him to death, and he is a great uncle. I think he’d be a great dad. I say tell him, just tell him gently, and explain why you didn’t say anything before.”
Bilianne nodded, a lump in her throat. “Thanks.”
“Anytime,” Macy said. “And by the way...if you need to talk about it...just call.”
Bilianne nodded. “It’s weird you know? I don’t want him back...I mean Twilight’s father. But I miss him sometimes. I have no idea why.”
“You loved him.” Macy said gently.
“Yeah,” Bilianne sniffed.
“And there’s something about the father of your child, even if that father is irresponsible, cruel and unreasonable that you just wish you could make it different, don’t you?”
“I understand.” Macy looked down. “That’s how it was with my first husband.”
“Your first…?” Bilianne looked confused.
“I know, Rio and I look like we’ve always been together. But actually I was married to a man for about 2 years before I married Rio. We had one child together, but the marriage was horrible. He was very abusive.”
“Now I’m sorry,” Bilianne sympathized.
“But then God gave me Rio. He has a way of healing things and giving us help, just when we need it.” Macy smiled.
The men came out to the porch again. “What you two talking about so seriously?” Rio asked his wife.
“Oh, just woman things,” Macy answered, patting his hand.
That evening, as Demetrio opened Bilianne’s door to his car so she could get out to go into her apartment, Bilianne paused and looked at him. There was something in her eyes that stopped him dead on. Sadness...a deep pain...a strong anxious look…
“Are you ok? Did you not enjoy the time at Rio’s?” Demetrio wondered, concerned.
“Can I just talk to you honey?” Bilianne asked.
“Of course! You want to go out somewhere?” Demetrio asked.
“No, this is fine. We can just talk right here, under the stars.” Bilianne took a seat on the bench outside her building, patting the seat beside her.
Demetrio sat down and draped one arm around her shoulders, waiting for her to talk.
“I need to tell you something...but I am not exactly sure how.” Bilianne’s voice trembled.
“It’s ok, we aren’t in a hurry,” Demetrio said, but inwardly he was a little afraid. Was she breaking up with him?
“I need to tell you first a story. A story of a girl. She loved a boy in her grade at school. They were in high school. She thought he loved her too. They went out a lot during their sophomore year, and by the time junior year came, most people said they’d get married. One night he took her out to look at the stars. But he did something she never expected he’d do.”
A cold shiver crept up Demetrio’s neck but he remained quiet.
“He...took advantage of her in the back of his cousin’s pickup, then left her alone in the open field and drove off.” Bilianne swallowed, not daring to look at Demetrio’s face. “She found out she was pregnant then. She had a little girl and called her Twilight. Twilight became the light of her life, even though her name reminded her both of the pain of that evening and the joy and beauty like twilight gives the world. She became the dearest thing in the world to her and she never ever wanted her little girl to get hurt. But being a single mom was not the easiest thing to do…”
Demetrio felt like he was going to choke, but he stroked Bilianne’s arm thoughtfully.
“Can you forgive me for not telling you before?” Bilianne asked, tears lingering in the corners of her eyes.
Demetrio kissed her and took her in his arms. “Nothing to forgive, little girl,” he replied. “If it’s ok, I’d love to meet Twilight.”
Demetrio followed Bilianne inside and sat on the couch, looking at photographs of the bright-eyed little girl who looked just like a miniature Bilianne. It explained a lot. Like the times Bilianne had to hurry away for a phone call. Or the times Bilianne had to drive all the way to Georgia just for a weekend. Or the time Bilianne got angry about a news story about a young girl being hurt. Or when Bilianne heard a child’s voice and all of a sudden started crying.
“Would you...get tired of my being a little insecure sometimes?” Bilianne asked him one night.
“Why would you think that?” Demetrio asked.
“Well...some nights I dream about It. And Him. Like a recurring dream. Like it’s happening over and over again.”
“It’s interesting you say that. There’s people, other people who have been through hard things. Not like you, but other things. Take Covid, for example. Think about all those doctors and nurses who day after day relive this nightmare of people sick and dying, hearing ‘Code Blue’ over and over. Or take people who’ve been bullied or experienced racism.”
“That would be hard too,” agreed Bilianne.
“Can I tell you though that even though I don’t understand what that’s like, I know that God always understands pain because Jesus got rejected over and over, got hurt over and over. And somehow, He just always had the power to keep loving and keep forgiving. That’s what makes healing happen. Healing can’t happen if you keep finding fault with someone, or if you keep thinking about what they did over and over. It has to be a continual releasing them, forgiving them. Giving each other a new opportunity to try again and doing well. God could just stop the world from turning because of all the bad people do. But every twilight and midnight is followed by a sunrise sometime.”