Kevin leaned over Jules and gently shook her by the shoulder. "Hey, sweetheart? Wake up."
"Mm, yes?" Jules stirred in her seat and sat up straight. She rubbed her eyes with the heel of her hand, grinning half sheepishly at her dad. "What's up, and what time is it?"
"It's nearly 3:00. Dave left about an hour ago to finish working on his sermon, and Miles and Greta left soon after. I wanted to let you sleep, and they wouldn't hear of waking you up, anyways. So, would you like to go home and sleep and then go to church in the morning? I can stay here with Dad."
"Oh. That sounds amazing, actually." Jules started reaching for her shoes underneath the chair. "Are you sure you'll be fine?"
"Of course. We can switch off when you get back from church."
"Okay. Thanks, Dad."
She gave him a hug before she started gathering her bag and purse. "Have you seen my sweater?"
Kevin glanced around with tired eyes. "Oh. Uh...it's right there," he pointed. "Foot of the bed."
"Thanks." She stuffed her arms into the sleeves and buttoned it all the way up. "You need anything before I leave?"
"I don't think so. Wait, could I keep your pillow and blanket?"
"Of course." She handed them over with a sleepy grin. "Sorry they're pink."
Kevin chuckled. "It won't hurt my manliness any. Thanks."
"No problem." She gave him another quick hug, and then leaned over to plant a kiss on Angus's cheek. "You both be good. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon, maybe 4:00?"
"Sounds good," Kevin nodded. "Be careful on the road."
"I will, Dad." She smiled and swung her backpack across her shoulder. "Love you."
"Love you too, sweetheart."
Jules walked out to the parking garage with a smile on her lips and a song on her tongue. "Oh Lord, You're beautiful; Your face is all I seek..." She sighed. It was good to be going home for a little while. Her smile drooped a little while she thought over the events of the day. She climbed into her car and shut the door. The complete silence was refreshing after all of the drama that had played out over the last few days.
Jules put her hands on the steering wheel and rested her forehead against her fingers. "Lord, You know what road I have ahead of me. You know what burdens I'll have to bear. You know how weak I am, and how easily discouraged I can be. You know how sick Grandad is, too," she whispered, her voice faltering as her lower lip began to tremble. "But God, I know You are with me. I know you will give me the strength to bear my burdens without giving up. I know Your word will encourage me. I know You have blessed me with a godly circle of friends who will all help me if I need it. Lord, I know that You can grant healing if You so desire. Help me to never forget this knowledge. Help me have faith even when my heart feels too weak to keep from doubting. Help me to keep cheerful for my family's sake. Please forgive me if I lose sight of joy." Jules sighed softly, lightly shaking her shoulders. "In Jesus' name, amen." She sat up and glanced at her reddened fingers. Her nail polish was chipped, and her fingers were sore from gripping the steering wheel. "I'm giving myself a manicure tonight." She turned the key in the ignition and put her Bluetooth on shuffle before backing out of her parking space. It was going to feel like a long and lonely ride home, but music would make everything better.
Jules tilted her head to one side and let the music wash over her while she cruised down the old country road. She saw the towering oak tree to her left and slowed down for her last turn. The sun was setting, and it glinted off of the small green sign that read "Pine Street". She shielded her eyes with her left hand. "I hate driving this direction at this time of day," she muttered to herself. She gripped the wheel even tighter. "It makes it so hard to see--oh my word!" She hit her brakes and skidded several feet. A deer scurried across the road just inches from her front bumper and leaped over the opposite fence. Jules exhaled deeply. "That was close." She turned off onto her street and pulled into the driveway.
It didn't take her long to shower and get ready for bed, but before she lay down to sleep she went down to the kitchen. After she made herself a cup of tea, she sat at the kitchen table and absentmindedly stared into her mug. The cream and honey made the steam ascend in a milky white color. She took a deep breath and glanced down at her hands. "Oh yeah, my nails." Jules pushed her chair back and paused for a moment, contemplating the importance of having a fresh manicure. "I'm so tired... but I feel the need to be pampered. Ugh." She laid her arms across the table and rested her head against them. Her phone suddenly rang, and she groaned again before answering.
"Hey Jules, I just happened to be stalking you and saw that you're home. You okay?"
"Hey Greta! Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired. I came home so I can be here for church tomorrow. Dad's with Grandad. I'll switch out with him after fellowship."
"That's good. I'm glad you'll be at church. Did I wake you up?"
"No, I'm in the kitchen. I'm tired, but wide awake. I was thinking about painting my nails..."
"Ooh. What if--and you can totally say no if you don't feel up to it--I come over and paint your nails for you? Maybe even spend the night?"
Jules grinned into her phone and chuckled, pushing her hair away from her face. "Well..."
"I'll bring jellybeans."
"You are so on! I'm gonna throw a pizza in the oven. Say, what time is it?"
"6:00. Oh," Jules could hear Greta moving around. "I found some popcorn. I'll bring it."
"Sounds good! We have enough time to watch a movie if you want."
"What do you have in mind?"
"How does Princess Bride sound?"
"Yes! Sounds good. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Jules got her second wind while she puttered around. She put the pizza in and then went to the family room to get the pullout couch ready. Her phone rang again, making her jog back into the kitchen.
"Hey, just wanted to check in and see if you made it back home safely."
"Oh, sorry! Yes, I did. Greta is coming over in a few minutes, so I won't be here alone tonight."
"Good, I'm glad."
"You sure you'll be okay?"
"Yes. Dad woke up for a little bit. It's so hard, Jules." His voice caught.
Jules bit her lip, and a tear trickled down the bridge of her nose. "I'm sorry."
"I just wish I could make him get better. He wants to talk, and he tries, but he can't. He can barely squeeze my hand."
Jules bowed her head. She tried to hold back the tears that were now coursing down her cheeks and nose.
Kevin's voice broke the silence, warm and concerned. "You still there?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I'm here. I know it's hard, Dad. But God knows what He's doing. I love you."
"I love you, too."
"Greta just knocked, so I need to go."
Jules slid into the entry way on her fuzzy socks. She opened the door before her friend could knock again, which was just as well because Greta had her arms full.
"Come in! And what's all this? Here, let's put it on the kitchen table."
Greta set down a jumbo-sized container of jellybeans and a new box of assorted gel nail-polish colors. She simultaneously guarded a bouquet of cheerful spring flowers. "Here," she held them out. "For you."
Jules gasped. "Gretchen Esmeralda Maria Hoffmann, what in the world is all this? It's too much!"
"Agh!" Greta tugged off her black beanie and leather jacket before walking around the kitchen counter. "Please stop using my full name; you know I hate it." She winked.
"You're going to spoil me."
"Good, because I think you could use some spoiling tonight. Besides, that's what best friends are for, right?"
"Yes, I suppose you're right." Jules wrapped Greta in a warm hug. "Thank you, Bestie."
"Any time, kid. Now how in the world does your microwave work?"
Jules giggled. "See the button with a picture of popcorn on it?"
"Oh." Greta laughed, crinkling her deep green eyes into a squint. "Yeah, that would come in handy." She hit the button and then walked back to the table, popping a pear flavored jellybean into her mouth.
"I don't see any pajamas here. Did you bring any?"
"Oops." Greta looked sheepish. "I guess I forgot them."
"No worries! You remembered everything else, plus some. We're the same size, so you can wear some of mine."
The girls ran upstairs to Jules room. "I need to take my nail polish off, too. Here, how are these?" Jules held up a pair of pink pants and a matching tank top.
Greta laughed, twisting her face into a hilarious grimace. "Too pink."
Jules rolled her eyes and smirked. "Oh that's right, I forgot you were a cool person. Here," she tossed her a pair of gray and black plaid pajama bottoms and a black tank top. "How's that?"
"Much better. Thanks."
Jules grinned. "No problem. I'm gonna take off this old polish while you change."
Before long they were back downstairs, snugly established on the pullout bed. They surrounded themselves with comforters, quilts, and junk food. Greta worked on Jules nails while they both enjoyed their movie. Though they had seen it countless times, they still doubled over in laughter over the timeless jokes and witty quips.
"Jules, PAUSE, I have to run to the bathroom." Greta launched herself off of the bed. She wiped frantically at the tears of laughter which streamed down her cheeks.
"As you wish!" Jules searched for the remote. I can't find it and I'm going to ruin my nails! Oh wait, here it is." By the time she found it Greta was already crawling back into her cocoon of blankets. "Just rewind it a little bit. There! Now give me back your hand." A few minutes later she screwed the top back on to the little bottle of polish. "There." She titled her head to one side, viewing her finished work. "This dark shade of green is perfect for you."
"Shhhhh here it comes!"
Both girls struggled to sit up and face each other, quoting in sync. "Rodents of unusual size? I don't believe they exist."
"Rawwwrrrr!! Greta planted a pillow in Jules's face.
"Hey, watch the polish!"
"Girl, it dried years ago."
"Mm, not quite. But take that!" She hurled her pillow at Greta and they both laughed.
"Okay, okay. We're even now. Pass the popcorn."
Once the movie was over, the girls sighed collectively and settled down into quiet conversation.
"Say, Jules, why aren't we married yet?"
"Because Wesley is fictional."
"No, like, why aren't we married yet? We're both going to be 2 next month. Isn't that a normal age to get married for girls in our circle?"
"I suppose it is. I guess we've both never been asked."
"Uh, speak for yourself."
Jules bolted upright. "What? How is it that you've never told me about this before? Who? When? Where?"
Great laughed and threw Jules a wink. "Calm yourself, girl. It was some dude in community college. Besides, I'm pretty sure he did it on a dare."
"He asked you to marry him on a dare?"
"Ugh. So, he was a barista at the coffee shop on campus, and he wrote 'marry me' on the lid to my latte on Valentines Day."
"Oh." Jules giggled. "I see."
"Okay, seriously, why aren't you married yet, huh? You're perfect. I imagine there have already been a couple of guys tripping over themselves to get your attention."
Jules sighed. "Well, there were one or two guys that seemed a little interested last year."
"Oh yeah? What happened to them?"
Jules shrugged. "I don't know, I guess I didn't feel ready. Besides, I feel complete as I am."