By mid-June the world had adjusted to living in the new world order created by COVID-19. Despite the state’s reopening, Billy suggested that the families, who’d taken refuge at Pappy’s Place, stay put.
Some questioned why he recommended their extending their stay. After all, Henderson County was only reporting low case counts. But Billy just had a bad feeling of what might lie ahead. And, what the heck. The day’s routine had become second nature. The youngsters were right at home and keeping up with their classroom assignments thanks to the addition of a couple of teachers and their families. Why, Bertie and Shen had even partnered up and expanded the vegetable garden and egg gathering as part of the school’s curriculum.
As the Fourth of July approached, Shen learned of a Preston tradition — the annual Pappy’s Fourth of July celebration. Each year since Billy could remember, Pappy’s Place was the site of a fireworks extravaganza complete with barbecue, cherry pie with ice cream and tubs of ice filled with soft drinks and longnecks.
This year would be no different, except Shen took a hand in it. She announced to her husband that she would be in charge of the kids. To help her pull it off, she drafted the Hamilton Three to come up with games like relay races, jenga and watermelon eating. As an added bonus, she arranged for a bounce house, bungee jumping, a rock wall, face painters and s’mores at the fire pit. All the kids received T-shirts reading “Camp Preston.” The Hamilton boys had special T-shirts identifying them as a “Camp Preston Counselor” on the back and their names on the front.
But on the eve of the holiday weekend, Billy’s fears proved to be all too true. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide requirement for masks due to the dramatic rise of COVID-19 cases statewide, with Dallas and Harris counties leading the charge. Despite Texas being now the “hot spot” in national coverage, Pappy’s Place was still in a bubble of safety. No one was entering the premises without Ham’s approval. Any delivered supplies were wiped down to purity.
And from the signs of the night, the Fourth’s Saturday night celebration was strictly business as usual with the kids partying on and their parents dancing to music provided by Billy and The Boys.
Once the sun had set, a dazzling fireworks display got underway as “It’s a Wonderful World” was heard over the PA.
The morning after, Billy was just waking up when Shen walked into the bedroom. Billy gave her an odd look. Why was she smiling that smile? She’d never looked like that before. And what was that she was holding in her hand? It looked like some kind of plastic stick.
Putting the stick on the table next to their bed, Shen slid into bed next to him as he put his arm around her.
“Are you okay? What’s with the stick? What am I missing, Shen?”
Looking up at him, she wanted to see his reaction, “It seems I’m missing something? I’ve missed my period twice.”
At first Billy didn’t react. Then he realized what she had just told him.
“Are you pregnant?”
“According to the pregnancy test, it looks like we’re pregnant.”
He was thunderstruck kissing her face, her hands, her shoulders.
“I’ve got to hand it to you, Billy Preston. When you get down to business, you don’t waste any time.”
Now reality was setting in. How pregnant was she? Did she know if it was a boy or girl? What did they need to do? They could turn Pappy’s bedroom next door into a nursery.
“Whoa, son. That little stick as you called it just told me that I am probably pregnant. I’m going to make an appointment with Ham tomorrow to see if it’s true, and how far along.”
Billy wanted to wake up Ham right away. But Shen convinced him that Ham and his lab wouldn’t be up to snuff to provide the official report until Monday. Besides, Ham was probably still recovering from the party the night before.
The rest of the day was a battle of wills. Billy wanted Shen to stay in bed; Shen wanted Billy to relax.
Monday Billy had to fly to Denver to discuss the roll-out plan for the oil industry to recover from the recent bust. Shen made sure that he and Riley had masks, gloves and sanitizing wipes on the Lear before they took off. Billy swore they would only be gone for a day at most. Still, he wanted Shen to see Ham immediately and made her promise that she would be equally equipped with the COVID-19 preventatives in going to his office.
Laughing at her husband’s concern, she said, “Why don’t I just have Bertie wrap me in plastic wrap?” But Billy was serious.
When Shen arrived at Ham’s office, he admitted that he knew something might be up. “Hannah told me she’d noticed you’d been drinking G-rated lemonade at the party.”
When Billy got home late that night, Shen was already asleep. He wanted to know what Ham had said, but he didn’t want to wake her up. Whatever the news, it would have to wait until morning.
Tuesday Billy awoke, but Shen was nowhere to be found. Bertie told him that Shen had taken off early for a ride with Girlfriend.
“Did she say anything or act peculiar?” Billy asked.
“Are you asking me about Shen or the dog?”
Billy didn’t think that was as funny as Bertie did. Eating breakfast alone didn’t make him feel any better. How could Shen have left him without updating him? After all, it was his baby, too.
In a rare foul mood, he went to his office to catch up on the emails resulting from the Denver meeting. Around noon, Shen appeared in the doorway in a pastel cotton sundress. She had returned from the ride and taken a shower.
“I know you’re busy, but do you have a second? I need to tell you something,” Shen asked as she walked across the hardwood floor to him.
Billy was worried. Something was up. He held out his arms, inviting her to sit in his lap.
“Does it have to do with your appointment with Ham yesterday? I got back as fast as I could, but you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you.”
She nodded and buried her head in his chest. He was now preparing to be brave for her.
“So, what’s up, sweetie?”
Pulling back and biting her lip, she said, “You know how I thought I was pregnant and we were going to have a baby?”
“Of course, I remember. Is there a problem?’
“Billy, we’re not going to have a baby,” Shen said.
Without hesitation, Billy held her tightly, rocking her back and forth and kissing the top of her head.
“Hell, don’t worry. Half the fun of having a baby is trying. We’ll just keep trying until we get it right. You just know…”
“We’re having twins.”
Silence. The rocking stopped. The kissing stopped. Billy froze.
“You’re serious? No, really?”
“Surprise! Billy boy, you’re not the only one who can pull off a surprise,” Shen threw her head back, laughing at the startled father-to-be.
“You mean we’re having two babies at once.”
“Well, that’s how the twins package usually rolls out,” she continued to laugh.
With that he hugged her so tightly that she had just enough breath to whisper, “Billy, I can’t breathe and if I can’t breathe, neither can the twins.”
He let loose of his wife and just looked at her stomach as she reported that they were probably going to arrive around the holidays, and Ham would be in charge.
“By the way, Ham was impressed that you were such a fast worker.”
As they headed down to lunch and to tell Bertie the news, Billy asked, “Where did you go this morning? You weren’t meeting another man like Hud Hamilton?”
“No,” Shen said. “I went to the cemetery to tell the family about the new Preston crop. But they already knew.”
In the days, weeks and months ahead, the virus would continue ravaging lives and economies around the world. But it could not stop a love story from taking root in East Texas.
In the years to come, Shen and Billy would have four children. Nine months after the April wedding the twins (Evangeline Brusche Preston aka Angel and William Allen Preston IV aka Liam) were born, with Hannah and Ham serving as godparents. Three years later, little Pappy Wildcatter Preston aka WC arrived, with Eleanor Kerry Preston aka Ellie finishing up the herd five years to the day that their parents were married.
Eventually, the four would delight in telling their own children about their grandparents’ spring romance in the midst of a global pandemic.