The young men were cousins, though they lived in the same state, it was almost like different countries. Bobby Ray and Paul were both 26, born just a month apart by moms that were two of the closest sisters you would ever meet. They were both good cooks, could sew, clean the house, and climb a tree.
Paul’s family moved to the big city when his momma married pop when he got a job at Ford's big plant. Bobby Rays pop worked a little at this and a little at that and often spent more time working his jaw at Dews Standard gas station. One of the local gathering holes. So his momma did babysitting, people’s wash, made some cakes and pies on request, plus cleaned a few of the town's upper class houses.
When the boys reached school age they seemed to love competing with each other. Not in sports, Bobby Ray played a little basketball but was not much because of his attitude. Paul tried a few sports but would rather read a good book than get hot and sweaty for what he saw as a useless waste of time.
Now when Paul came down from the city every other weekend, it was the girls they competed for. Both boys were always at church on Sunday morning and both could really sing well. Yet, that was about where being alike ended.
The list of girls they argued over is long, neither ever taking a leftover. He had to be the clear winner. Once the win was made the love life lasted until a new beauty showed up. When Bobby Ray went to visit Paul in the city it was the same game.
Paul’s family was anything but rich, but they lived good, a nice house, a nice used car and plenty to eat. Bobby Ray's family was what folks called dirt poor. With pop not working often and his momma not making much, they lived in an old house. Momma kept it clean but pop nor Bobby Ray seemed to know how to use a hammer or a lawnmower, and the idea of a paintbrush was like poison to them.
Now Paul went to a Community college then to a state college, mostly on grants, and working nights at restaurants. He had a future job offer to work as an accountant when he graduated.
Bobby Ray followed the same job road his pop did, a little work here and a little there, but not much anywhere. Yet he did not like hanging out At Dews with old smelly men, he preferred Pats Bar and Grill with smelly younger men. His big brag was he could down six beers in a row and not be drunk.
On one fine Sunday as they gathered by custom at Praise the Lord General Baptist church things changed. A new family had moved from the city to that little town. They had bought the old JJ's farm. It wasn’t much, a 100 acres of mostly cleared farmland, too rocky to grow much but fine for raising a few White Face cows.
Paul nor Bobby Ray cared much about that, it was Polly they had their eye on. She got up and sung a special song, and it must have been the voice of an angel, they were so enthralled with her natural beauty and that voice they almost ran over each other trying to get to her when the closing Amen came.
She refused to be courted so easy, and both boys began to try to win her heart. Paul took her a box of chocolates and Roses after asking her little sister what her favorites were. Bobby Ray took one of his momma's pies.
Paul took her on the first date, to Zoe’s Pizza and a movie. Bobby Ray took her to Pats and burger and when she refused a beer, he showed her he was a champ at six in a row, got into a fight at the pool table. She ended up driving him home and then drove herself home in his dirty trash-filled pickup.
Bobby Ray made her laugh, and she liked some of his uncouth ways. She hated his chewing that beeswax and spitting, she refused to kiss him and hated his beer breath. But Paul was always so serious and did not have a wild bone in his body. Her poppa said Bobby Ray was a no account, and she knew he was right.
The dates stayed about the same, and then the unthinkable happened. Perhaps she would marry one of them but she wasn’t sure which when a virus hit the land.
Now Paul and his family took it seriously and stayed home. If they did go out because of need they stayed six feet apart and wore masks. They washed hands so often their skin was whiter.
Bobby Ray and her new town thought it was a political hoax and media trying to scare folks. So he kept dating Polly and she missed Paul, but he was such a goofball to do all that stuff. The music was hopping and she was learning to like beer. After a beer, she didn’t mind Bobby Rays spitting, and forgot how he always smelled like sweat.
Two months into the virus pandemic she had a beer and whiskey and Bobby Ray hit a home run. Six weeks later they were planning a fast wedding. Paul, well he cried, this one really mattered, he had loved Polly and wanted her as his wife, a lady. What he got, was a broken heart.
Polly and Bobby Ray hit that bar each night dancing and drinking and never missed a Sunday morning service where they now sang as a couple. So when Bobby Ray picked her up and asked if she minds if they just stayed home because he had a cough and fever, she said sure. She and her momma fussed over him, gave him hot tea and lemon.
A couple days later Polly was feeling the same and so was momma. Bobby Ray's whole family had it too, and half the church and almost all the bar crowd. Pastor Ron said it was just the flu, and pointed out more people die of flu than the virus so just take a lot of vitamin C.
When Johnny Peterson was found dead in his barn, everyone said it was just a bad heart. Then Polly started to cry, momma was scared, her belly hurt, she puked, her fever was so high. Poppa took her 30 miles to the hospital. She lost the baby in the ER, and she died two days later. The doctor said it was the virus.
Papa was now in the same hospital with a ventilator, momma seemed to be getting better in her own room. The death list was growing, Pastor Ron died on the toilet, Bobby Ray and his momma were found dead in their beds and his pop sitting in his pickup. By the time the virus moved through town, that was once 500 folks there was now maybe 200.
Some people lay days, bodies swollen and stinking before they were found. Paul’s momma cried, she was not able to be at her sister's Burial and that’s all that was done for any of them. Paul cried, even more, he lost his cousin that was like a brother and the only girl he had yet to love.
Yet there is good news, Praise the Lord, General Baptist Church was still standing. Someday, but not likely, it might get a congregation again. The Town, what’s left of it, as most of the business is closed, still has Pats Bar and Grill to comfort them.
Paul took his job, his momma is planning his wedding with Mary Parker, a beautiful girl he met at the last restaurant he had worked at.
Yes, life will go on, the question is, who will be a part of it?