Minutes had turned to hours, and Martin was still stretched out on his cot in the corner of the little hospital room. Jules took a peek at him. He was sound asleep, his black hair making his face look even more pale than it already was. She noted the dark circles forming around his eyelids with a bit of concern. He had never been able to handle stress very well, and this was the worst she had seen him. If he wasn't careful to rest he'd need a caretaker, too. She heard a sigh from behind her, and turned her attention back towards the hospital bed. She spoke softly. "Margaret?"
"I worry about him, that boy of mine."
"I do too, dear, but I don't know what else to do besides make him rest."
"He needs to rest in the Almighty."
"That he does. I pray for you both every day."
"You're a treasure," she sighed. "I just wish I could go home."
"In God's timing."
Martin stirred, rubbing his forehead restlessly before turning his back to the hospital bed. Jules held her breath until he was quite still before dropping her voice to a whisper. "How are you feeling now, Margaret?"
"Better, but still so weak and heavy. It feels like a chore just to lift my hand."
"I'm sure we'll have you feeling normal in no time."
Margaret laughed softly. "What is normal? Life is meant to change. We have to learn to accept the ebb and flow of time, and move with it gracefully. I am old, dear. I believe that this is my new normal."
Jules gently squeezed her hand. "Well then." She smiled. "I hope we can make this new normal a happy one for you."
Margaret raised an eyebrow. "We?"
Jules blushed. "You know you are like family to me. I didn't have a mom growing up, and you and Mrs. McCarthy were the two women I had in my life. I want to be here for you like you were for me back then."
"Oh, dear. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you. You're like a daughter to me, and I'm so thankful to have you here with me."
"I'm glad to be here. But I must be wearing you out! You should try to get some rest now, Margaret."
"I think I will. I'm still so tired."
"Do you need anything? Another pillow?"
"No, well, could you sing to me? I love so much to hear you sing Great is Thy Faithfulness. It helps me to relax."
Jules reached for her hand with a smile. "Of course I'll sing for you." Jules sang softly, being mindful of the comfort of those around her. Margaret closed her eyes with a smile and drifted off to a peaceful sleep. She was lulled by words written by a man who understood his great need of the Savior. Once Jules had finished the hymn she settled back into her chair, suddenly aware of her small audience. A few nurses had gathered in the doorway. She smiled shyly and nodded as the nurses thanked her before going back to their various duties.
Martin cleared his throat behind her. "Jules?"
She turned her head to look back at him. "Oh, I hope I didn't wake you up. What can I do for you?"
He sat up and swung his feet down to the floor, stretching his arms above his head. He suppressed a yawn. "I just wanted to say thank you. I needed that sleep, and I feel a lot better now. You should go home."
Jules looked at the clock and sighed. "You're right. It's nearly ten. Please rest as much as you can, Martin."
"I will. And you do the same. Thank you again."
"You're more than welcome." Jules gently let go of Margaret's hand and turned to gather her things. "Please call me if anything changes. Anything."
"I will. Oh! And I forgot to tell you, the doctor talked to me right before you got here. He said he'd be releasing mother tomorrow at two in the afternoon. I know this is a lot to ask, but would you be able to take us home?"
"Of course. I'll plan to get here at about one so I can help pack up your mother's things."
"Thank you so much, Jules. I really appreciate it. Now go home and get some rest."
"Okay," Jules smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Jules dialed Duncan's phone number and walked down the hallway towards the elevators.
"Hey Grandad. Just wanted to let you know that I'm about to leave the hospital."
"Oh good. I was just starting to worry about you."
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize how late it was. Martin only just woke up a few minutes ago, and I didn't want to leave while he was still sleeping. Oh, and before I forget Martin told me that Margaret is being released at two in the afternoon. I told them that we, or I, could get here at one and take them home."
"As it should be. I think I'll feel up to riding along."
"Good. Alright, I'm walking out to the parking garage. Please don't feel like you have to wait up for me. I'll probably just shower and go to bed as soon as I get back."
"Okay. I am pretty sleepy, so I'll probably go to bed now. Drive carefully."
"I will. Love you, Grandad."
"Love you too."
It was very dark in the parking garage. Jules shivered, pulling her dark green sweater more snugly around her shoulders. She reached to unlock her door, but froze in place at the sound of footsteps coming heavily down the stairwell. Her heart pumped enough blood in that brief second to fuel a hundred copies of herself. She quickly unlocked her door and piled in, tossing her backpack haphazardly into the back seat. She was trying to close the door over her purse and coat. Just as she was shuffling her purse out of the doorway and turning the key in the ignition, she heard her name called. Her shoulders relaxed, and her heartbeat slowed to a more normal pace. "Hey, Miles."
"Hey. Hope I didn't scare you coming around the corner. I forgot which level I parked on, and I needed my phone charger."
Jules laughed. "You scared me a little bit, but it's okay. How's your grandfather doing?"
"He's doing great. He'll be released tomorrow afternoon. He's asleep now, so I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and get a coffee. And my charger." He punctuated his sentences with a cough.
"You okay? Hopefully you didn't catch a cold here in the hospital."
"Oh, I'm fine; thanks. My voice is just tired. My grandpa loves to read, but he's not allowed to right now. I read to him for a couple hours until he fell asleep."
Jules smiled as she sensed a kindred spirit in Miles' grandfather.
"What kind of books does he like?"
"G. A. Henty, Ballentyne, and any other historic fiction. But G. A. Henty is his favorite."
"Reign of Terror and Cornet of Horse. Those two are my favorites."
"Seriously? Mine too. Plus Out on the Pampas."
"Yes," Jules smiled again. "I like that one, too. If he likes historic fiction you should try To Have and to Hold and Prisoners of the Sea."
Miles grinned. "To Have and to Hold sounds a bit like a chick flick."
Jules laughed. "It's not, trust me. If the library doesn't have it or the other one you're more than welcome to borrow them from us. Oh! And before I forget, Grandad told me to say hello to you if I saw you today."
"Tell Duncan I said hello back."
"I will." Jules shifted in her seat and Miles scratched his neck. "I guess I'd better get going. See you later." He waved and backed away from the car. "Goodnight."
Jules shut her car door and backed out of her parking space. After driving for several minutes, she pulled over to the McDonald's drive through. Jules ordered a large hot chocolate. "This is a necessity if I want to make it home without falling asleep at the wheel." With her drink in hand she pulled back out into the highway. She smiled, and then laughed out loud at the thought of her last encounter with Miles. "I'll have to tell Grandad. He'll get a good laugh out of it, too."
The drive went by too fast for Jules. She loved driving at night. The stars were at their best, and there were hardly any cars out on the highway besides her own. After she got home she paused at the hood of her car, leaning back to take in a better view of the sky. There was a blanket of milky gold stars smiling down at her with open arms. She let herself bask in the warm embrace while taking in their beauty with her own glowing eyes. "Lord," she whispered, "in the face of all this majestic beauty You chose to make me." She tipped her head further back, smiling towards the full moon. "Thank You."
Jules jumped out of bed at 7:30, and bounced down the stairs with a smile on her lips and a song on her tongue. She paused at the bottom of the stairs, looking around at the brightened hallway. "Grandad?"
Duncan's voice rang cheerily from the kitchen. "You're up early. Follow your nose!"
She sniffed greedily, suddenly noticing the smell of bacon and fresh coffee. "Mm...what's this, Grandad?" She walked into the kitchen just in time to see Duncan flipping French toast with great pride.
"Surprise! I wanted to treat you this morning, but you got up a little earlier than I anticipated. Here," he tossed her an oven mitt, "see if those apples are finished baking."
Jules bent over the open oven door, feeling the rush of a Saharan heat wave blow across her face. The sweet aroma of fresh baked apples filled the room. "I think they're, done, Grandad." She carefully set the platter on top of the marble counter. "They smell so good!"
"It's a fall-ish sort of smell, but it's still perfect for a cool spring morning. How was your night?"
Jules hopped up and perched herself on the counter, pushing her mass of curly hair behind her shoulder. "It was okay." She grinned. "I did have a very interesting experience after I hung up the phone with you."
"Oh?" Duncan turned to face her, leaning his hip against the edge of the warm stove. "What happened?"
"Well, I was just starting to unlock the car when I heard heavy footsteps in the stairwell behind me. Thud, thud, thud, out there in the pitch black garage. It felt like when you're dreaming and you can't move! I could hardly get my door unlocked and open, but I finally managed it. I heard the footsteps coming closer and closer. Thud, thud, thud! I finally climbed into my seat and was just shutting my door when BAM!" Jules smacked her hands together dramatically, and Duncan jumped. "I heard Miles say 'Oh, hi, Jules.' And then I realized I was safe." Jules doubled over in laughter while Duncan rolled his eyes and sighed in obvious relief.
He tried to hide a grin. "You're going to knock yourself off of that counter if you keep cackling like that. You think you're so funny."
"Oh, I know so. Here, let me grab that bacon. You're going with me to the hospital today, right?"
"Thanks. Yes, I am. One can only stay cooped up by all alone in the same house for so long."
Jules smiled. "We'll need to leave here at 10:30."
"Sounds good. Now come eat breakfast before it gets cold, Chickadee." Jules sat down across from Duncan, smiling at him while he fussed over her plate. He piled hot biscuits and baked apples onto her plate. "Do you want three pieces of bacon with your eggs, or is two enough?"
"Two is enough, thank you." Jules sat back in her chair. "You're spoiling me, Grandad."
Duncan grinned like a kid in a candy store. "I know, but don't get used to it. I won't always feel as young as I do this morning. Taking it easy these last couple of days has served to fuel me with extra energy."
"I'm glad." Jules poured herself a glass of orange juice. "Just try not to use it up all in one day."
"I won't. Pass the butter, please."
"Here ya go. Oh, Miles said to tell you he said hello back. Plus he said that Mr. Stanley? Is that their last name?"
"Thanks," Jules nodded. She spread a generous amount of butter over her biscuits. "Anyways, he said that Mr. Stanley will be released some time today. Who knows, you may see them at the hospital before we all leave."
"Maybe so." Duncan liberally sprinkled salt and pepper over his scrambled eggs.
"Ah! Remember what your doctor said about salt?"
"Bah Humbug. I am 75 years old. If I want to eat salt I will, and if I don't, I won't."
"Very well, Sir." Jules laughed. "I suppose-I suppose you might as well eat your breakfast as salty as you'd like. After all, you have reached the age where stubbornness is completely acceptable. At least, in most cases it is."
Duncan laughed and then threw Jules a wink. "Glad to know I have your approval."