The next two days passed by in a blur for Jules. Her dad flew out Saturday afternoon, and Miles took his place at the hospital with Duncan. Duncan was speaking more, and was able to begin physical therapy.
Sunday morning rolled around bright and sunny. Jules got up and dressed herself in a blue skirt and gray sweater with boots and leggings underneath. She pulled the sleeves down over her arms consciously, and pulled the collar up around her neck. Her skin was still crossed with bright red scars, and tender to the touch. She didn't want anybody asking questions.
Greta walked in and began brushing her hair in front of the mirror. "You look nice."
"Thank you." Jules smiled sweetly. "I'm so nervous." She whispered, tugging her unruly curls into a neat bun. "I don't think I can face him."
Greta glanced over at her and smiled. "You don't have to worry about that. I have it on good authority that a certain young man with hazel eyes called him up yesterday. He asked him to give you some space for a few weeks. He's a good guy, Jules." She adjusted the tie on her deep red blouse, and sprayed on a little bit of Jules's perfume. She wrinkled her nose and sneezed.
"I know he is." Jules smiled a little to herself while she put her makeup on. "It was so nice of him to watch Grandad so I could rest. I feel so much better now that I've had a few days to just relax with you. And you said he carried me inside and up here to my room that day?"
"Yes. You don't remember that?"
"Not really. I was very dizzy and tired. I've never cried so much in my life! And I was so ashamed about everything."
"There's no need to be ashamed, Hon. You had no way of knowing that Martin was going to do that to you. You could be more careful about being alone with a guy, sure, but don't beat yourself up for misreading someone's character. It's okay to mess up as long as we learn from our mistakes."
"Thanks, Greta. I'm sure you're right. Are you ready to go?"
"Yes." She grinned. "I'll drive."
When they walked up the steps of the church, someone stepped up to open the door for them.
"Miles! I didn't think you'd be here today."
Miles smiled and tugged at his tie and collar. "I didn't, either, but Duncan is doing so well that I felt comfortable leaving him with Carter. How are you doing this morning, Jules?" He smiled down at her while they walked down the hall in step.
"Much better today, thank you. Greta is spoiling me." She smirked over at her friend. "She's been amazing. And thank you, again, for everything you did."
"I'm happy I could help. Oh hey, your grandpa has been talking even more. He told me to tell you he loves you."
"Aww. I can't wait to be with him tomorrow. Dad texted this morning and said he'd be driving down with Grace and Tabitha in about a week. He found a house on the other side of town that they like."
"That's awesome!" He smiled.
"Are you excited about that?" Greta peered at her from behind her thick, black bangs.
"To a point. I'm a little bit nervous about meeting Grace."
"I'm sure she'll be amazing. Would y'all like to sit with Gramps and I?"
"Sure, that would be nice. Hey Jules, that's Charlie over there." Greta pointed towards the young man with a brown beard and twinkling blue eyes. He was standing next to Angus, and they were smiling and talking together.
"Ah, so I'll get to meet him today."
They walked over to the empty seats next to Angus. Charlie greeted Miles with a smile and a bro hug.
"Hey Charlie, I'd like for you to meet Jules. Jules, this is my best friend, Charlie."
Jules held out her hand. "It's so nice to meet you."
"Likewise. I've heard a lot about you. All good things, of course." He smiled, and his eyes crinkled warmly at the corners. "And it's nice to see you, Greta."
"Yeah," Greta smiled. "How was your trip?"
Charlie walked around to sit next to Greta while he filled her in on his vacation. Miles cleared his throat, and Jules turned to smile at him. "I'm so glad you could make it today. I'd hate for you to be stuck at the hospital all day. I'm thinking I'll just need one more ride over there, and then I can use my own car. Grandad is well enough that I don't feel bad leaving him alone for a while. Besides, it's time to start getting the house ready."
"I told Charlie about what you were thinking you need to get done. He said he's free Thursday and Friday to look at your place if you want him to."
"That would be awesome. Thursday is probably best for me. Grandad will have physical therapy Thursday afternoon, so he won't really need me."
"Cool. Would it be helpful for me to drive you to the hospital tomorrow?"
"I was thinking I'd feel up to going this afternoon, and Greta already offered to take me. Or..."
"Maybe you and Charlie could come along? We could stop for ice cream or coffee on the way."
"That sounds really fun. Let's talk about it during lunch, though. The service is about to start."
Halfway through the service Jules started to push her sleeves up, and then quickly pulled them back down. She glanced around self consciously. Miles leaned over and whispered. "Are you covering your arms on purpose?"
"Yes." Jules pushed her sleeve up briefly to show him the angry red scratches that ran around her wrists. "I didn't want to have to explain what happened if I could help it."
Miles nodded, smiling gravely. "I understand." He looked back down at his open Bible and tried to focus on the sermon. His mind ran to Martin, and he said a quick prayer for him. He hoped he would grow and learn from what happened, and never try to do something similar to any other poor girl. He thought about Jules, and how she had been wise to push away and run. She was so strong, yet so fragile at the same time. Miles glanced briefly over at her and caught her smiling eye. He looked back down, his own eyes glowing warmly. He felt Angus patting his knee, and prayed that he wasn't winking at him. He needed to pay better attention to what Pastor Dave was saying.
Once the service was ended, the rest of the day flew by in a blur. Jules enjoyed getting to know Charlie, and he agreed to take a look at her house on Thursday. Their drive to the hospital was filled with laughter and light-hearted banter. It eased Jules' nerves and reminded her of how blessed she was to have such friends.
When they had said their goodbyes, Jules settled into her familiar chair next to Duncan's bed. She pulled out a book to read aloud. Duncan smiled the whole time, and occasionally managed a short comment when Jules asked him questions about each chapter. It was altogether a pleasant evening and a restful night.
The next two weeks passed by very quickly. Jules had been flitting back and forth between home and the hospital. Between keeping Duncan company, overseeing Charlie's remodeling, and helping her dad move, she was kept busy. Before she knew it, it was time to bring Duncan home in her shiny, new, wheelchair accessible minivan.
Jules called Greta Friday morning.
"Hey Jules! What's up?"
"I was wondering if you would want to come along with me to the hospital when I pick Grandad up. I'll be leaving at 9:00. Which is in... oh, half an hour. Anyways, you wanna come?"
"No, sorry, I'm actually grocery shopping right now. Sorry! Did you ask your dad? Or Miles?"
"I asked dad, but he said he and Grace already had lunch plans and didn't want to be late. He also informed me that Miles will be at the gym all day. Phooey. Well, I guess I'll see you later! I'd better finish getting ready."
"Okay. Sorry, Girly! Hope it goes well."
"Oh, I'm sure it will. It'll be so good to have Grandad back home."
"I'm sure it will be. Talk to ya later."
"'Bye." Jules hung up with a sigh. "Oh well," she said to herself. "At least this is my last drive to the hospital by myself. Guess I'd better get my shoes on." She grabbed her yellow converse and carried them over to the staircase, where she sat down and took her time putting them on. She had on a short, white dress over a pair of dark blue jeans. Her dress was scattered with sunflowers, and her necklace sported a small, bright yellow flower. She hummed a cheerful tune and made her way to the front door, carefully observing everything to make sure it would be just right for Duncan's arrival. Everything looked good. She had spent most of the day before cleaning everything, and felt confident that things were perfect. At least, as perfect as perfect could be.
She locked the front door behind her and climbed into her slick, black minivan. It may have looked like a mom van, but at least it had an amazing stereo system. She turned the music up and grinned while she rolled down the road.
The drive to the hospital went by faster than she thought it would, and she parked right in front of the sliding doors. Carter and two other nurses stood waiting with Duncan and his brand new wheelchair. They helped Jules load Duncan and all of his belongings into the car, and then cheered as she pulled away.
"Are you excited to be going home, Grandad?"
"Good. I'm happy, too." She grinned from ear to ear. "In fact, this is the happiest I've felt in a while." She played music while she drove home, keeping the volume at a reasonable level. She sang along when she knew the words. Duncan smiled happily from his seat, appreciating her joy.
Once they were home, Jules worked hard to get Duncan smoothly into his chair. She swung his backpack over her shoulder and grunted a little while she wheeled him up the brand new ramp. She unlocked the front door and swung it wide open.
"Oh my goodness!" Jules put her hands up to her cheeks and laughed out loud. "You guys!" She looked around her living room and noted all of the brightly colored streamers and flowers. She looked at each of her favorite people standing around with gifts in their hands. Greta ran over and hugged her tightly while Miles wheeled Duncan inside. Angus and Kevin made a space at the kitchen table for Duncan's wheelchair. Charlie carried a cake over. Grace and Tabitha took their turns hugging Jules, and everyone laughed gleefully at her genuine surprise.
"No wonder everyone was so busy this morning!" She laughed and wiped a tear away from her cheek. "You guys are amazing."
Miles grinned and pulled out a chair for her. "I'm glad the surprise worked. It was all Greta's idea."
Jules laughed again. "I'm surprised you remembered, Greta. I had actually forgotten it was my birthday."
"Well you're a silly goose for that. Make a wish!" Greta pushed the cake closer to Jules and started singing the birthday song to her. Everybody chimed in, and Jules laughed at all of their absurd harmonies. She took a deep breath and blew out all of the candles as soon as they were finished singing.
Charlie grinned at her from across the table. "What did you wish for?"
"Instead of making a wish, I prayed that the Lord would bless each one of you with the happiness and love y'all have given to me so freely."
Grace put an arm around Jules's shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. "Aww, that's very sweet of you, dear. Are we ready to cut the cake?"
"Yeah!!" Tabitha jumped up and down excitedly, and everybody laughed.
"I'm ready, too." Jules grinned. "Thank you all for making this the best birthday ever."