At the end of the fortnight, the pair emerged looking as good as new and ready to take on the world.
In early June, Billy suggested that they saddle up a couple of horses and watch the sunset. Just after dinner the two found the perfect hilltop to observe the sun sinking in the west. Billy pulled something out of his pocket saying, “I have a little surprise for my best girl.”
“Is this the key to your heart?”
Billy hesitated. He knew that he might get mixed reviews. That’s why he had come up with the idea of getting her as far away from the others as possible.
“You already have that key. This is another one to add to your key-ring. When the shelter-in-place restrictions back off, you’ll want to see your mom at times. So I contacted some Dallas real estate folks and had them find a place for you to stay near your mother’s care center. This is a key to the front door.”
Billy was right about this news not going over well.
Shen bristled, “Houston, we’ve got a problem. Why would you do that without checking with me? I guess I didn’t get the memo that our marriage was just a hot-and-heavy physical thing. I thought we were partners, and partners make decisions together.”
“Shen, I admit that I should have run it by you first, but you’re the most important thing in my life and I don’t want to worry about you when you go to Dallas. I offered to get you a gun, but you refused.”
“And you should be glad I did, because I’d be using it on you right now.”
Billy continued explaining that everything had been taken care of. Whenever she wanted to go to Dallas, Riley and Joey would fly her up. The boys would stay in a condo that he’d bought near the house.
“You may not even like the place, but I love you and just want the best for you. It’s a gift to show how much you mean to me.”
Shen just sat there, shaking her head in disbelief. Her husband had arranged not only for her to have a place to stay but to be escorted by a former Navy Seal and a pilot.
Frustrated and disappointed in her reaction, Billy grumbled, “The deed is in your name. You can do with it whatever you want. Damn, you really know how to say ‘thank you.’”
Realizing that Billy’s gift had also been meant to give him peace of mind, Shen backed down. Perhaps the assault in New Mexico was still lingering. Perhaps she hadn’t realized how much she was Billy’s Achilles heel. Perhaps she had over-reacted to the surprise. Instead of being grateful, she was sandblasting his kindness.
“You’re right. I’m an ungrateful brat,” she admitted. “Just promise me that it’s not a big place.”
He assured her it was one of the smallest in the neighborhood. Shen wasn’t all that convinced, but she couldn’t stay mad at him.
The next day Riley flew the newlyweds up to the Million Air Dallas hangar. There, a black Mercedes Cabriolet was waiting for them.
Climbing into the car, Shen was impressed. She’d never been in a Mercedes before. “I didn’t know you could rent one of these.”
Adjusting his seat, Billy didn’t look at Shen. “It’s not a rental. I just thought since your Volkswagen was probably done for, you’d need a car up here.”
As Billy drove them out of the parking lot, Shen let out a heavy sigh, shook her head and laughed. He was simply incorrigible.
“Are you mad?” Billy sheepishly asked.
Shen smiled, “Of course, I am. Can’t you tell?”
As they drove to Shen’s new Dallas home, they passed some 1960s one-story duplexes. Shen was feeling a little more at ease. Perhaps it was one of those cute little bungalows.
Then Billy pulled up to the guardhouse at the exclusive Glen Albens community. Shen turned to look at Billy, who just stared straight ahead as he drove past the gate.
“You bought a house in Glen Albens? These places start at a million dollars.”
Billy smiled and nodded. “But they come with security and nice surroundings.”
As they drove through the grounds, even Shen had to admit that it was beautiful, with fountains in a lake and tree-shaded parks.
“There it is,” Billy said as they pulled up to a contemporary two-story with a flawless view of the lake.
Looking at the house, Shen was speechless. It was truly amazing, but it was too much… at least, that’s what she thought as she mentally compared her 875-square-foot East Dallas apartment to this dazzling, 4,000-square-foot “little place.”
Billy turned her face to him. “Like I said yesterday, I should have run it by the boss first, but I just wanted to surprise you. If it isn’t to your liking, hire a decorator or do it yourself, just so you’ll feel comfortable.”
Feeling woeful, he added “Or, if you want to sell it and use the money to divorce me, it’s yours.”
Shen looked at Billy. He had crossed the line. She felt her spine straighten and her jaws clench. It was the first time she had ever heard that word — divorce — between them. It stilled the moment. Perhaps he didn’t realize that word festered up her memory of a father leaving her mother. Without any emotion registering in her face, she just shook her head and bit her lip. While she understood that she had brought this upon herself by seeming ungrateful, she knew she had to lay down the ground rules for future disagreements.
“Don’t you ever use the word ‘divorce’ again in regards to us. It’s an insult to you, to me and to us. I’m in this for the long haul. I fell in love with the oil field worker I picked up in Chandler and I have come to love him even more since then. You knew from the start that you weren’t marrying some sweet porcelain doll who would kowtow to you and provide you with vacuous love and generations of Preston weak-kneed brats. Understand?”
Then, with a twinkle in his eye, he said, “Yes, ma’am.”
Billy knew that would get her dander up and loved seeing the fire in her eyes, her mouth brimming for a fight and her cheeks fiery red defending them. “God, how I love you when you get pissed, baby. I just hope you’ll let me sleep over sometime. ”
With that, Shen made a fist, as though she was going to bash him. As he winced, she threw her arms around him and kissed him.
Once inside the fully furnished house, they went from room to room. Like a child nervously waiting for his teacher to approve his assignment, Billy watched her reactions. In the weeks since the deal had been sealed, he’d had it fixed up for his bride, who was now putting it to the test. In the kitchen, she opened a cabinet to find a bottle of tequila; in the fully-equipped office was stationery engraved with “Shen Kerry Preston;” in the living room, she turned on the sound system, which began playing Tony Bennett and K.D. Lang singing “Because of You;” in the outdoor terrace, she discovered rose bushes; in the bathroom were a pair of white terrycloth robes with an embroidered “P,” plus matching slippers.
“You know, I really could learn to like this place,” Shen said, testing the bed’s mattress in the master bedroom. “But I’m just wondering if it’s all that user-friendly.”
Billy was stymied. “Hon, what do you mean user-friendly?”
She walked up to her husband and said, “I want to see how friendly we can be here. Want to show me?”
The rest of the day they put each room in the house to the test. It passed with flying colors.
… continued on Friday, July 17