Bid Time Return

Billy entered a cave in 2053 and disappeared. He died at the St. Valentine's Day massacre in 1929 ....


Published: 03/2011
Length: Free Short Story
Word Count: 5000
Genre:Futuristic/Time Travel Romance
Rating: Sensual
Available formats: : online


Click Here to read FREE story...

Taylor Manning


© Copyright by Taylor Manning, March 2011
© Cover Art by Jenny Dixon, March 2011
ISBN 978-1-60394-
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636


This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.


Call back yesterday, bid time return.

William Shakespeare, Richard II, act 3, scene 2

Southside, Virginia, 2053

"Come on, will you? We're losin' daylight!" Billy Edmonds scrambled up the steep hill to the place where the best diving spot was. It was late August and soon it would be too cold for jumping off the high cliff into the deep pool in a bend of Sandy Bottom Creek. He glanced back at Cal Turner trudging up behind. "Cal, you gotta lose some weight. You know Coach is going to rag on you for eatin' too many Moon Pies this summer. How are you going to squat behind the plate to catch my fireballs with that spare tire around your middle?"

"Shut up!" Cal stopped to catch his breath. "I'll be ready. Baseball practice don't even start until January.

Billy turned back toward the summit.

That's when he saw it.

"Hey, Cal, what's that?" He pointed toward a cave. "I don't remember a cave up here before."

Cal finally caught up and the two friends stood side by side, staring at the gaping mouth of a large cave.

"Let's go." Billy took a step toward the cave but Cal grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

"Are you crazy? I'm not going in there."

"Chicken? Brawck brawck brawck!"

"No, I'm not chicken. And I'm not stupid, either. There could be snakes or bears or… or moonshiners in there."

"Moonshiners?" Billy laughed. "You’re a girl! Come on!” Billy shook Cal's hand off his arm and trotted toward the cave. He peered inside. "It's not so big. It won't take long to explore it."

"Billy, don't go in there. I've got a bad feeling."

Cal always had bad feelings. Billy shook off the fact that he was usually right.

"That earthquake last week made everything shaky. Remember the warning to stay off the hills?"

"Aw, heck with that. Are you comin' or not?" When Cal didn't answer right away, Billy looked back. "Well?"

"I'll stay here in case somebody has to go get help to save your sorry ass."

"OK, Lassie, you stay here, but anything I find inside is all mine." That should goad Cal into following him.

Cal just shook his head.

"I'll just be a minute. I gotta go see."

Billy stepped inside the cave. He'd lied to Cal. It was big. He looked up and couldn't see the ceiling. Neither could he see all the way to the end. Scratching noises told him there were animals in here. He wasn't afraid of any animal, but he sure didn't want one to run up his leg and make him holler. Cal would never let him hear the end of it.

"I came in here to see it, so..." The sound of his voice settled him down and he went further into the darkness. A tingly feeling crept up the back of his neck. At the same time his stomach twisted up and he was pretty sure that he was gonna puke.

He felt like there were eyes on him. He was being watched. He wasn't alone.

"Who's there?"

"Who's there?"

"Billy? What's going on?" Cal had come to the entrance of the cave. "Come back, Billy. Come outta there now!"

"Just a minute." He walked, slowly, deeper into the cave. And the dark.

After another ten steps he muttered to himself, "Maybe it's time to turn around."

Just then a roar blasted from deep in the cave, like no animal he'd ever heard. He turned to run and get the heck out of there. His foot hit a rock and he went down -- hard.

As soon as he got his face out of the dirt, he shouted, "I'm coming out, Cal."

The roar blasted again. He tried to get up. Light flashed, blinding him. His head spun. His stomach twisted again. This time he did puke.

When he could finally open his eyes, he listened for whatever had roared deeper in the cave, sure it was going to get him. But roaring wasn't what he heard.

He heard cars. Old time gas-powered cars. And people talking. People yelling.

Billy struggled to his hands and knees, his stomach still gurgling, like there was more there to puke out. And the feeling only got worse as he looked up and around.

He wasn't in the cave.

He was in a narrow, dirty alley between a bunch of big brick buildings.

"Hey, kid. You wanna job?"

Where the hell was he? He saw a sign on a building over a big garage door.

S.M.C. Cartage Co. Shipping - Packing - Long Distance Hauling, 2122 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago? Where the hell was Virginia?

"Kid! I asked you if you wanna job."

* * * *

Eight years later – Lynchburg, Virginia, February 10, 2061

Operation Homecoming had a small office in the building owned by Graffe and Graffe, the preeminent time hopping and treasure hunting company in the world. Ever since she’d entered her training, Jillian Brooks had set her sights on being hired by Graffe and Graffe. It was the only place she'd be able to do what she had to do. Now, as a member of the Operation Homecoming team, she could do it. And maybe not lose her hopper’s license.

But it didn’t matter if she did. The license was only a means to an end. Though she'd learned to love the work of time travel and finding lost treasures, her motivation for hopping was much more personal.

She squelched the thought. She never allowed herself to think about it except when she was completely alone. Thinking about why she became a hopper in the first place could affect her objectivity. And objectivity was the prime requirement in a hopper. If you hopped to the past, you had to be so unemotional that you wouldn’t try to change anything. Otherwise you could mess up the future. She had to pretend to be objective – even if she wasn’t. She hid her emotions from the others at the table as Peter Graffe, brother of the company's founders and leader of Operation Homecoming, tossed a sheet of paper on the conference table.

"Here's the official list of the lost," Peter said.

Jillian was closest so she glanced at it first. The names of the lost-in-time were in alphabetical order: William George Edmonds, Caleb Franklin Turner, Mary Spencer Turner, and Police Sergeant Zebediah Alfred Williams. One name of the five people lost in 2053 wasn’t on the list, because it was Peter Graffe and he had returned. A few years later and a few years older, but here he was, as obsessed with retrieving the other lost people as Jillian was.

"Okay, people, we got the contract. Now we can move to get these people back." Peter's gaze moved along the five members of the team—four hoppers and a tech—he had hand-picked for the job. "We find out where they went. We find out if they're retrievable, that is, did they survive the hop? Then we figure out how to go get them."

One of the team, newly minted hopper Gerry Haskins, asked the question that had been buzzing through the hopper community ever since Operation Homecoming was announced. "These people have been in the past for eight years. Whatever they’ve done is now part of history. Has anybody considered how retrieving them will change things?"

Peter nodded. "Yes, of course, that's been considered. But these people didn't volunteer to go into the past. It was accidental. And the plan is to retrieve them as close to their arrival time as possible, so they won't have had time to change anything." He spread his hands. "Look, people, I don't have any idea how retrieving them will change the present, but they are innocent victims. We have to try to get them back."

Jillian cleared her throat to get Peter's attention. "If we retrieve them close to their arrival point, they'll be the same age as when they left."

"Yes ... and?" Peter asked.

"Let's take the first name on the list, William Edmonds. He was 18 when he disappeared. He should be 26 now."

"Your age."

Jillian met Peter's questioning gaze without flinching. "Isn't that a coincidence?"

"Yes, isn't it?" Did he know? She brushed aside her discomfort. "Is it fair to bring him back here, eight years later, when his friends are all grown?"

Gerry grinned and waved his hand in the air. "Hey, why don't we just go back to when the cave was discovered and stop anybody from going in?"

"That's a good question. One we not only considered, but even tried to do. It turns out the Time Warp doesn't see all times and places. And one particular where-when it doesn't see is itself. You can come back to it, but only if you left it in the first place. So there's no way to go back on a preventative mission." Peter turned back to Jillian. "And as to the age thing, we have specific directions from the Time Travel Authority. They want these people brought back as quickly—" He grinned. "Well, as close to their initial arrival in the past, as possible. We can take as long as we need and plan very carefully, so we do this once and we do it right. After all, we have a time machine. Now, let's assign targets."

Jillian had purposely sat at the head of the table, hoping she'd get the first name on the list.

"Jillian, you take Mary Turner."

"Mary? Why?"

"Because I think she'll react better to a woman trying to haul her back than a man. Do you have a problem with your assignment?"

The silence hung thick, screaming for an answer. "No, of course not."

Jillian refreshed her expression of cool objectivity and listened as the rest of the assignments were made, especially when Gerry was assigned to retrieve William Edmonds.

"Okay, get to it. Start your research. And keep me informed of your progress." As she pushed her chair back to rise, Peter said, "Jillian, do you have a minute?"

She forced a smile onto her face. "A minute, a week, a year, whatever. We have a time machine."

The rest of the team chuckled as they left the office – that was the old joke that had become the hoppers' unofficial motto.

Peter waited until the door closed, sat down next to her, then got right to the point. "Tell me what you're after."

She didn’t even bat an eye. "Whatever are you talking about? I'm after the same thing you are. I want to bring those people home."

"Don't kid a kidder, Jilly. You never take the first seat at the table. In fact, I've never seen you show up for any meeting until just before it starts. And you’re the only person who nagged me to death to be part of this operation. Every new hopper I've ever met has got some big famous treasure they want to go after, or they're history geeks who want to go do chronotaping of some important event in the past. But you’ve never mentioned either of those." He laid his hand over hers. "Tell me the truth. I'm not a stoolie. I won't report you to the Authority."

Jillian knew that he was obligated to report any information that could endanger the operation of the Southside Time Warp. And someone – like her -- using the Warp for her own personal agenda definitely would qualify.

"I can't tell you because you'd have to report it. You couldn't keep it secret, even though, I swear to you, Peter, I'd never do anything to hurt the project or the operation of the Warp."

"I believe you. Now you have to believe me. I won't report you. I know what the rules are. And I don't care. All I care about is getting these people back. I sense that you are driven by that, too. I just want to know why."

Could she trust him? If she did, and he betrayed her, her only chance to get Billy back would disappear like a sardine in a cat’s bowl. But suddenly, she wanted to tell somebody, to share her guilty knowledge.

"Did you know my brothers used the Warp to find me?” Peter grinned. “They always had good reasons for hopping, but the real reason that Rolfe took all the risks he did was to find me. Heinrich, too, before he got his license suspended for pocketing a piece of the True Cross. So, you see, you're not the only person who's lost someone to the Warp. You're not the only person who's decided to use the damned thing to get your loved one back."

She could trust him. Her heart lightened by a ton. So she told him. "I know everyone who disappeared, but William Edmonds, Billy, was my boyfriend in high school."

"I figured so, since you're from Dunhill, Virginia. And you want to go after Billy?"

"Yes. I think I already know where-when he is." In spite of herself, her eyes teared.

"He's in Chicago in the twenties. He's gotten involved with Bugs Moran and the North Side Gang."

Peter's eyes twinkled. "No kidding? A mobster. What else have you found out?"

"He'll be at a garage in Chicago on February 14, 1929."

"The St. Valentine's Day Massacre?"

She nodded. "He's listed among the dead."

"Oh. Well, it doesn't change anything. Give your information to Gerry and we'll get Billy as close to his arrival as we can, before he can even get in with Moran."


"But what?"

"He'll only be eighteen." And I'm 26.

Peter covered her hand with his own. "I'm sorry, Jilly. I didn't make the rules."

"Please let me go after him. I'll go after Mary Turner, too, but give me Billy. Please."

He shook his head. "No. You're too emotionally involved."

"I can control my emotions. I'll get him back."

"But when? Will you bring back the 18-year-old boy or the 26 year-old-man?"

"I've only found him on that one day in 1929." She met Peter's gaze. "But if I can find him closer to his arrival, I'll go get him then."

"Even though he'll be eight years younger than you are?"

She didn’t hesitate. "Yes. It's more important to bring him back where he belongs." She forced a grin. "Besides, maybe I'll find I like younger men."

"Okay, you've got Billy and Mary Turner. Get Gerry to help you with the reconnaissance research. He's really good at programming the roborats."

Jilly leaned forward and hugged him. "Oh thank you, Peter. I really appreciate it."

"Just don't make me regret it. Maybe we can prove that stone-cold objectivity isn't really necessary for a good hopper."

* * * *

Jillian set to researching, making an honest effort to find Billy closer to the time he would have been eighteen. He should have arrived in Chicago sometime in 1921, since the records of his death in 1929 noted his age as twenty-six. Gerry was just as happy to help with research and programming the roborats to search in the future. When the first recordings came back, they sat together while Gerry downloaded the data from the batch of ten roborats they'd sent.

"One good thing is, we have the whole herd at our disposal for this."

"I wanted to thank you for letting me go after Billy."

Gerry shrugged. "No problem. I understand why you want to go."

She jerked and Gerry laid his hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry. Peter swore me to secrecy. He knows I only came to the team because he asked me to. I'll do everything I can to help, but I've got some research of my own to do. My first hop ...." His eyes looked far away.

"What are you going after?"

"Promise not to tell?"

"Cross my heart."

"Butch Cassidy's missing gold. It was worth $32,000 in 1900. It would be worth millions now."

"And you know where-when it is?"

"Not exactly, but once I hop and join Butch's gang, it'll be a snap to set a marker then return to the future and dig it up." He grinned. "Not as altruistic as your goal, but a guy's gotta make a living."

"I hope you find it."

"I will. Just like you'll bring Billy back. So let's get going."

Gerry started the first recording. They ran through nine without finding Billy. Then they came to the tenth.

The rat's view was close to the ground, which limited their ability to see the men working in the garage.

"This garage is owned by a flunky of Moran's, Adam Heyer. It's the only place I've been able to verify Billy's presence." She opened a folder and showed Gerry the pictures of Bugs Moran, Adam Heyer, and Al Capone. "Capone ordered the hit." She sighed. "It's like Billy was invisible until this day."

"If he was in with the mob, he wouldn't want to be on the radar."

Jillian had considered that, but was still trying her best to fulfill her promise to Peter. After poring over the tapes, it was looking more and more like she had no choice but to go get Billy on February 14, 1929.

Right in the middle of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

"Look." Gerry pointed at the most recent recording. Right at rat's-eye level, a man rolled out from under a car, grease on his cheek.

"Hey, Adam. The fuel line’s shot on this one."

"Well, change it, Fireball. You need me to hold your hand?"

Fireball. It was the nickname Billy had earned for his 90-mile-an-hour fastball.

The man smiled. It was a crooked smile, producing a dimple on only the left side of his face. Jillian sucked in a breath.

"What is it?" Gerry asked.

"It's him. Billy."

She stared at his face. It was definitely him. She'd feared he would have changed so much that she wouldn't recognize him. But she knew him. Her heart cried out as a dog started barking in the garage.

A car door slammed.

Somebody yelled, "What are the cops doing here?" Footsteps sounded as a man raced across the concrete floor. The roborat had moved back, closer to the wall, and flipped to a wide angle lens for a better view of the scene.

Five men rushed through the garage door. Two were dressed in Twenties-style police uniforms.

Gerry stopped the recording. "You don't need to see this."

Jillian shoved his hand away to restart the tape. "Yes, I do."

She and Gerry watched as the men pulled out two Tommy guns, a sawed-off shotgun, and a .45. Moran’s men, thinking the guys were cops, allowed themselves to be rounded up. When they dragged Billy from under the truck and shoved his face against the wall, Jillian wanted to turn away but couldn’t.

The attackers raised their weapons and started firing. The killings were fast and bloody, the men’s backs riddled with bullets. The trap set by Al ‘Scarface’ Capone to get his bootlegging rival George ‘Bugs’ Moran was over. Scarface had won.

As the killers left the garage, the roborat followed their departure, Jillian and Gerry watching as the men got back into the fake police car and drove away.

It had all happened in less than a minute.

She and Gerry sat in complete silence as the recording kept rolling. The roborat had approached the bodies to get close-ups of each of the dead men, as Gerry had programmed it to do. Two of them had been shot in the head ... but they weren’t Billy.

In that moment, she would have been more than willing to find him as a teenager and bring him back safely, her own desires be damned.

"This is the only place we can locate him, isn’t it?"

She nodded.

"Then we’ll have to use it. It'll be close. We'll have to think this through." Gerry talked on about how many hop points they'd need, what the time interval would have to be to maximize safe retrieval, and all the other things they had to consider when planning the hop. But Jillian couldn't focus on his words because the roborat had moved on to Billy's body and that's all she could see.

He moved! "Help ...." His eyes focused on the rat, just as his life left him.

* * * *

Jillian dressed carefully the morning of her hop to February 14, 1929. Her period clothing had been made just as it would have been then, including the cloche hat and tweed wrap coat with fur collar. She’d already had her hair cut and styled in waves and her eyebrows were now pencil-thin.

The tech, Freddie, knocked and then came in. "I've got your tracker." He handed her a small pill and a glass of water. "It'll be active for 24 hours, but, ah, try not to eat too much or you might lose it." He grinned.

Freddie was being delicate, and Jillian understood what he meant. They were using a new tracker, one that was swallowed, to minimize the effects of the implanted ones, required for longer hops. But either she'd end up dead on the floor of S.M.C. Cartage, or she'd have Billy safely back home before the end of the day.

"Ready?" Freddie asked.

She nodded and followed him to the chamber, where her hop would begin and, hopefully, end. He showed her which of the glowing spots was where she should stand.

"Your first hop?"

"Not my first, but my first real one."

Freddie smiled. "So you know how it feels. Take a comfortable position but don't move your feet from the transport location."

Jillian knelt down. Sometimes hopping disoriented you and she didn't want to fall on her face as soon as she got there.

"Okay. I'm ready."

"Transporting." From back in the control room, Freddie initiated the process.

Light flared up around her and she closed her eyes against the glare. When she opened them, she was in the alley. She let the dizziness pass and stood, then glanced up at the wall.

The worn-out sign on the back of the building read S.M.C. Cartage Co. Shipping - Packing - Long Distance Hauling, 2122 North Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois.

I'm here. She pulled aside the front of her heavy winter coat and checked the watch pin on her bodice. 10:20 in the morning. Not much time. The killers would arrive in ten minutes to commit the bloody slaughter.

She had planned a straight-forward approach -- her only real option. Sucking in a deep breath, she straightened her coat and started toward the door under the sign. She opened the door and entered the garage.

"You got that truck checked out yet, Fireball?" a man's voice called out.

"Almost. I'll be done by the time Bugs gets here."

Hearing his voice almost destroyed her composure. He was so close. After all these years, so close.

Would he recognize her?

She shoved aside her feelings. No place for them here. She had a job to do. She could fall apart later. She approached the man who had spoken to Billy. "Excuse me, sir."

The man turned away from the pile of papers on a desk. A lazy smile spread over his face as he looked her up and down.

"Yes, pretty lady. What can I do for you?"

"I understand William Edmonds works here. I'd like to speak to him."

"Fireball? Why do you want to talk to him?" He immediately took on a suspicious look.

"It's ... personal."

The smile came back, this time as an ugly sneer. "You one of Fireball's dames, huh? How come he ain't brought you around to meet old Adam?"

One of Fireball's dames? Until that moment, she hadn't considered that Billy might have found a lover here. What if he didn't want to leave her?

"Hey, Fireball, you got a visitor."

She followed the man's line of sight to the large truck. A man rolled out from underneath.

"Who is it?"

"I don't know. She didn't give me her card. Get your ass over here and get her outta here. Bugs don't like no dames hangin' around when business is bein' done."

Billy got up and sauntered over. He hadn't looked directly at her yet, and she waited for the moment when ….

He stopped, still six feet away from her. He stared at her and his lips parted as though he would say something. Then his eyes narrowed and he studied her face. He came closer.

He recognizes me!

He grabbed her arm. "Who are you? What do you want?"

"It's me, Jilly."

"No, you're not. You can't be."

"Take this outside, Fireball. The boss'll be here any minute."

Billy pulled her toward the back of the building, behind a concrete pillar. Instead of the warm hug she'd hoped for, he slammed her against the wall. "Who are you?"

"I told you. It's me. Jilly. You know me. I know you do."

"How the hell did you get here?"

"The same way you did. I came to bring you home."

"Home?" He spoke the word as though it had no meaning for him.

"Yes, to Dunhill. To Virginia. To your family. To me."

He raised his hand and gently stroked her cheek. "Jilly."

She was enveloped in arms stronger than she remembered. A man's arms. Jillian wrapped him in an embrace and held him tightly, afraid that finding him had been a dream and he would disappear.

"Oh, Jilly." He cupped her face and pulled her closer. His breath, warm and tinged with mint, brushed against her lips. The kiss was tender, and she could feel need dammed up behind his touch. Then he broke away and removed his caress, leaving her chilled without his warmth. "I'm so sorry you got stuck here, too."

"We're not stuck. We can get back, but you have to come now."

"How can we get back when we don't even know how we got here in the first place?"

She didn't have time to explain it to him. "Look, trust me. We can get back." She checked her watch. 10:27. "You have to come with me now. We don't have much time."

"I can't go back. I'm...different. You have to go. Now."

"No. I am not leaving without you." Jillian grabbed his sleeve and pulled him toward the first hop point inside the garage. It would be active in just a few seconds.

Billy jerked his arm free. "I told you, I'm not going back. What would I have to go back to?"

Me. The word sat on the tip of her tongue as she felt the seconds slip by and the first point went inactive.

"Damn." It wasn't going as smoothly as she had wanted.

"I was going to be a lawyer." He laughed. "I wanted to work for the FBI. And look at me, a mob flunky. Do you know what my life is?"

"Yes. You run liquor for Bugs Malone. And you probably do other things that I haven't been able to find out about."

His face went hard. "So, you see, I don't have a life back there. Up there, over there, wherever the hell my life was."

"Billy, we can discuss all this philosophical stuff later. Right now—" She glanced at her watch. 10:29. "Right now, we have to get out of here."


Should she tell him? It was forbidden to reveal the future. But he was not of this time.

And if it was the only way to get him to come with her to the next hop point ....

"In about one minute, five men are coming in here to kill you all."

He frowned. "What? Who?"

"No one knows who exactly, but it's pretty well established that Al Capone ordered the hit. He's hoping to get Malone."

A dog's barking startled her. "No! Not yet. It's not time."

"Not time for what?"

"What are the cops doing here?" Adam Heyer's voice, just like on the chronotape.

She would kill the tech who set her watch. The next hop point wasn't for 10 seconds, and by then—

Billy stepped out around a pillar. "What the hell—?"

"Come back here!" She jerked him back.

"Against the wall!"

"Hey, look fellas—" Heyer tried to reason with his killers.

The shooting started. The dog's bark became a whine of despair.

"Billy, come on. We have to be over by that cabinet.” She pointed to a gray filing cabinet about six feet away. “That’s the next hop point. We only have a few sec—"

Pain ripped through her. Everything went black.

* * * *

Billy caught her as she fell. Blood covered his hands.

Jilly was shot. Machine guns still rattled behind him.

What did she say? Next hop point? He didn't even think about it. There was no other way out. Capone's men would make sure there were no witnesses. He snatched her up and ran to the cabinet she'd pointed out. As soon as he reached it, he felt the same feeling he'd had in the cave: tingling, nausea.

"Hey, I saw somebody over in the back."

"Go take care of 'em."

Footsteps echoed in the building, coming closer. They would find him and Jilly. They would kill them both.

"I'm sorry, Jilly."

Then a brilliant flash of light ....

"Mr. Edmonds? Billy? Can you hear me?"

Billy struggled to open his eyes. Lights and consoles flashed with displays and indicators like an overlit Christmas tree. He turned his head aside and tried to focus on anything solid to ease his queasy stomach.

"Billy?" the voice asked again.

He looked toward the voice. A man leaned over him and smiled. "Welcome home, Billy."

"Jilly?" He could only manage to whisper her name.

"She's here. You brought her back. We've got her on the way to the hospital." The man frowned. "Looks like she cut it a little too close. You should have been a little more notorious and we could have gotten you out sooner."

"Take me to Jilly, please."

* * * *

After hours of waiting while Jillian was in surgery, Billy spent more hours sitting next to her bed. The doctors hadn't been encouraging, but he refused to let go of the spark of hope she'd brought back into his life. She would be okay. He held onto that thought like a lifeline.

While he sat, he read through the information she had gathered about him. There wasn't much, because he had tried to stay as inconspicuous as possible. Maybe he had hoped that he wouldn't be there long. But he had become a man in Chicago in the Twenties. How could he go back to the life he'd planned?

Jillian stirred. "Billy?”

The sound of his name on her lips brought a big smile to his. "I'm here, Jilly bird."

"We made it?"

"Yep. You brought me home."

"What happened? Where am I?" She tried to sit up.

"Stay still, honey. You were hurt." He took her hand. "Jilly, I'm so sorry. I should have listened to you. I almost got you killed."


"Yes. I did. Can you forgive me?"

She smiled and nodded weakly. "Now… what?"

Before he could answer, her eyes slowly closed.

* * * *

“There’s something I have to tell you,” Billy said as he reached to pour more wine into her glass. He had held off through their supper at the Old Post Inn. Now it was time.

“What?” Jilly asked.

Billy cleared his throat. “While I was in Chicago, the memory of you kept me from doing a lot of things that Bugs wanted me to do. Things I could have, would have, done without the thought of what you would say about it. You saved my soul. We were only kids when I … left, but what I felt for you never died. If anything, it got stronger.”

The look in her eyes told him it was the same for her.

The spark of hope that had been Jilly grew into a flame.

"That was the reason for this special date, wasn't it?"

He grinned. "Well, that and I want to give you something that I should have given you a long time ago." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a velvet-covered box. He took a second to enjoy the way her eyes went wide in surprise, then proceeded to worry that she might say ‘no.’ Maybe her feelings weren't the same. Maybe she'd only come back for him because it was her job. There was only one way to find out. He slid the box over to her. "Jilly, will you marry me?"

Her eyes glistened. She picked up the box and opened it. "Oh, Billy. It's beautiful."

"It's not what I—"

She reached over and put her finger on his lips. "Shhhh. It's perfect." Leaning toward him, she pulled him closer and kissed him. With her lips lingering on his, she whispered, "The answer now, in the past, or in the future, will always be ‘Yes.’"

The End.