New Winslow S6E1
(5/4/23: Thank you so much to all my patreon patrons for your support throughout this series!)
Billy looked miserably down at the suitcase hanging open on his bed. It was already nearly filled, and he hadn’t put nearly everything he wanted to bring in there yet. But his parents insisted he could only bring two bags with him. One for clothes, one for everything else he might need during his time at sea. His cabin would be small, and likely shared with another man.
So now he was standing here, the warm yellow glow of the tungsten bulbs in the wall sconces illuminating the piled objects in the suitcase before him. He didn’t want to move away from here. This had been his bedroom since he was a child, since years after Dad had built this enormous house here in New Winslow. The house was grand, with four storeys and a beautiful garden in the back. Perhaps it was too big. There were three other bedrooms on this floor alone, despite the fact that Billy was his parents’ only child. Sometimes he suspected that wasn’t the plan when the house was built, but he didn’t dare bring it up, not when there was a chance it would break his mother’s heart.
He’d spent his entire life in this town, grown up running through the halls and reading in the small parlors tucked away beside the main foyer. It was him, his parents, and the same housekeepers that had worked for them nearly as long as Billy had been alive. Plus a handful of much younger cousins who often visited to run around the yard and scream, much to Billy’s regular annoyance. But this bedroom, even though it had changed over the years, was where he felt safest in the world. And Billy didn’t want to leave.
He was eighteen years old, far too old to cry. Nobody was here with him, but he blinked rapidly, trying to keep it from happening anyway. It’s one trip, he reminded himself. Likely only a matter of months. He’d go on the ship, pretend he had any interest whatsoever in a life at sea, then come back home. Then he’d go to medical school, become a doctor, and come back to New Winslow.
And then he’d never have to leave again.
The thought cheered him only slightly as he packed two books he’d been planning to read into the suitcase. His mother had bought him the latest edition of Gray’s Anatomy, as a bit of a peace offering. If he was going to medical school after this voyage, she’d said, he’d need to be prepared. The book was enormous, but there was no way he was leaving without it. The other was an Agatha Christie book he’d bought in Amherst last week. Together, the two books took up too much space. Billy eyed them both, realized there was no other way to pack them, then picked up the Christie and reluctantly set it aside. There was no room, not if he was going to bring any stationary to write home on.
They’d be away from land nearly the entire time he was gone. Billy’s mother had mentioned a couple of stops in Portugal and Ireland and how maybe he could take a day or two away at each of those to go exploring. She’d been so hopeful, seizing on anything that might make Billy more cheerful about going. And he felt bad that his mother was sad, but he just didn’t want to go. His life was here, no matter how much his father wanted him to be a sailor.
There was a knock at his bedroom door and he turned around. One of his biggest reasons for wanting to stay in town was leaning against his bedroom door frame, shoes off and suspenders hanging from his waist. Billy’s best friend Samuel was also eighteen and leaving New Winslow soon. He was cheerful and charming, with black hair and an easy smile. But unlike Billy, Samuel wasn’t going more than a few towns away and would be home frequently to help his mother in the house next door.
“Bill!” Samuel started, but his smile faded at Billy’s obvious misery.
He walked into the bedroom, clapping Billy on the shoulder as he looked down at the messily packed suitcase. “So this is it then, isn’t it?” Samuel asked.
Throat too tight to speak, Billy nodded. “It’s just a few months?” Samuel said, clearly trying to cheer him up.
“Make my parents happy.”
They’d repeated that refrain over the past weeks, ever since Billy’s dad had agreed to pay for medical school if Billy took one tour on one of his many ships. Just a few months. Maybe a year, depending on the weather. And it was a chance to see the world. Who wouldn’t jump at that? Nobody, except for spoiled children who didn’t know how good they had it.
Not that either of Billy’s parents had said that about him. But Billy knew how lucky he was. Which was why he’d only fought a little before agreeing to go. Once they’d made their deal to send him to medical school, he’d tried to hide his reluctance much better.
“I’m taking Sarah out for dinner later tonight,” Samuel said, shifting the suitcase aside in order to sit his lean frame down on the bed. “But that’s not until six. Buy you a drink first?”
Alcohol was illegal in New Winslow these days, just like it was everywhere else in the United States. But Billy knew Samuel had a source for cheap booze out of Canada. Samuel winked at him, and despite everything, Billy felt a little better.
“Thank you,” he said with a nod. “I’ve got some packing left to do, but we’re not leaving until tomorrow morning. Take me out on the town, Sammy.”
Samuel laughed and Billy was momentarily overcome with how much he was going to miss his best friend. Only a few months, he reminded himself yet again. Then he’d be back, and they’d all continue their lives. Samuel would go to divinity school and Billy would go to medical school. Samuel would marry Sarah someday and Billy would find someone of his own to start a family with. They’d all raise children and grow old right here in New Winslow. Some people thought this town was excruciatingly boring, but Billy couldn’t think of anywhere he’d rather live.
Samuel slid his suspenders back over his shoulders, giving them a ridiculous little snap against his chest. Billy laughed, his heart lightening for the moment, and turned to find his jacket.
The next morning, Billy was back in his bedroom, forcing the clasp on his suitcase to connect. After a lengthy battle, he’d managed to fit the important things. Now he just had to make the suitcase agree with him.
He had a slight hangover from the night before, but the relief he felt was worth the discomfort. He’d spent a few hours with Samuel, talking about their futures over too many glasses of cheap wine. Then Samuel had gone on to Sarah and Billy had come home with the renewed belief that a few months away would be worth it. In fact, a few months was nothing in the span of a lifetime.
With that thought, Billy McBride picked up his suitcases, bid his childhood bedroom a fond farewell, and walked out the door.