Jules tossed and turned for a while before flinging her covers off. She swung her feet down into the soft carpet and sighed, rubbing her forehead. After flicking on her bedside lamp, she reached for the leather-backed book. She began to thumb through its pages before setting it down again. Jules wrapped her flannel robe around her and pattered quietly down the stairs, pausing to sit on the landing. She huddled there in the dark, burying her chin in her knees with her arms wrapped around her legs. A gentle hand touched her shoulder and she almost jumped out of her skin.
"Couldn't sleep, Chickadee?"
"No, Grandad." She returned the whisper. Duncan settled down next to her, and she snuggled her curly head against his shoulder. "What do you think he was talking about when he said he had more to tell me later on?"
"I don't know. I wondered, though... Did you notice that he has a wedding band on?"
Jules let out a soft gasp. "No, I didn't. Do you think he's married?"
"He may be. What would you think about that?"
"I'm not sure. I suppose it would depend on who it was that he married."
"I'm sure she'll be a lovely person."
"I wonder if I'll think of her as a mother."
Duncan reached his arm around her shoulders and held her closer. "Don't feel obligated to call them mom and dad, Chickadee. Take your time. It's hard for me to see him as a son, but God will warm our hearts to them in His time."
Jules smiled in the dark. "I won't overthink it, Grandad. At least I'll try not to." She kissed him on the cheek. "I feel like I can sleep now. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, little girl."
When Jules reappeared in the morning her hair was spilling over both shoulders, and she wore a happy smile. "Good morning, Kevin."
"Good morning, Jules. Did you sleep well?"
"Yes, thanks. Did you?"
"I did. The guest bed is extremely comfortable."
"I'm glad. Have you had breakfast?"
"No, I only got up a few minutes ago myself. I think Dad is in the kitchen, though."
"I'll see if he needs help." Jules disappeared into the kitchen.
"Good morning Grandad. Want me to make breakfast?"
"Hey there. Sure, if you want. I was just putting on a pot of coffee."
"Mm. I'll make some oatmeal and baked apples. It's so chilly!"
"It is very chilly. There was a cold front early this morning. Hey, Kevin?"
Kevin appeared in the doorway. "Yeah Dad?"
"Would you give me a hand with the fireplace? It's cool enough that it'd feel pleasant. We'll eat picnic-style in the living room, Jules."
Jules busied herself in the kitchen, peeling and coring apples while keeping an eye on the oatmeal all the while. She liberally poured brown sugar and maple syrup into the oatmeal, stirring carefully. The seasoned apples filled the room with a rich aroma, making it smell like fall again. She pulled an opened bag of bacon out of the fridge and lined a pan with the rest of the slices. They sizzled and snapped cheerily, reminding Jules of all the mornings growing up when Duncan had made breakfast for her. She smiled, feeling thankful for the opportunity to serve in like kind. She heard voices coming from the family room, and craned her neck to hear what was being said.
"Can you hand me that box of matches there please?"
"Sure, Dad. Hey, when is Jules's birthday?"
"Next month, actually. On the seventeenth. How could you forget?"
"I didn't have anything to remind me, and I didn't care to be reminded until five years ago. And she'll be twenty-one?"
"Yes, she will."
Jules turned over the bacon, smiling gravely. She remembered asking her grandfather why her dad had left her.
"Because he knew he wasn't worthy to take care of you, Princess."
The answer still rang clear in her mind. "You knew best, Lord," she whispered. "You always do."
"Do you need any help?"
"I'm almost done with the cooking. But," she bent down to rummage through one of the cabinets. "If you want to, you could spread this tablecloth over the coffee table. Just set the books and stuff under it; I'll clear them up later."
Kevin neatly caught the table cloth she tossed to him and tucked it under his arm. "Will do. Holler of you need a hand carrying food in."
"M'kay. I think I got it." She put together three sets of plates and bowls with good sized servings of all the food she had prepared. She carried them into the living room on a tray. Steam rose from the bowls of oatmeal, and Duncan sniffed appreciatively.
"This looks great, Jules."
"Thanks, Grandad. I'll be right back. I just have to grab the coffee." She went back to the kitchen and loaded her tray up with mugs and glasses, a steaming pot of coffee, and a pitcher of orange juice. "Everything's ready! Would you like to pray, Grandad?"
Duncan settled down into the leather cushions of his favorite armchair, tucking his pillows around him. "Alright. You ready?" He glanced over at Kevin."
"Yes." He nodded.
"Okay. Dear Lord, thank You for this food you have provided, and thank You for the hands that prepared it. Thank you for our time together, and Lord, thank you for bringing Kevin home. Amen."
"Amen." Jules and Kevin chimed in, smiling shyly at each other. They all busied themselves with eating for a few moments before Jules spoke up.
"So, Kevin, how long will you be staying with us here?"
"Until Monday. I have to fly home and take care of a few things before I can come down here permanently."
"What sort of things?"
Kevin sighed, smiling while he shook his head. "You're persistent, aren't you?"
"Yes I am. I take after my grandfather."
"I suppose I'm the one to blame for that, after all."
"Yes, you are." Jules tucked her toes up under her and snuggled further down into her corner of the couch, pulling her blanket around her knees and tucking in the loose edges. She grinned mischievously. "Now tell me, what was it you said you were going to tell me later? I'm ready for whatever shocking news you may have."
"Okay, here goes." Kevin sat still, squeezing his hands together in a tight knot. His brow was wrinkled, as if he was searching for just the right words.
"Let me guess; you're married?"
"How did you know?"
Jules laughed at his surprise. "Grandad pointed out to me that you're wearing a wedding band."
Kevin grinned sheepishly. "I suppose that is a dead giveaway. But what if it was from your birth mom?"
"You were never married to her."
"Not that you knew."
Jules gasped. "Oh my word, were you?"
"No, I wasn't. I'm married to this sweet lady." He pulled a picture out of his wallet, and handed it to Jules. She stared closely at the petit face framed with wispy strawberry-blonde hair. She smiled.
"She does look very sweet. I think I'll like her."
"I'm sure you will. Here, Dad. Oh, and that's not the entire surprise. Here." He handed Jules another picture, and she squealed with delight.
"I have a baby sister? How old is she?"
"Tabitha turns three in June. I hoped you'd be excited."
She bounced in her seat. "When are you bringing her here to meet me? Please tell me it'll be soon. Oh, she's so cute. Look at her little blonde curls! And she has your blue eyes, Kevin."
Kevin smiled. "Yes she does. I was hoping I could bring her and Grace down here the first week of April."
Duncan spoke up. "You should, Kevin. That way we can have a birthday party for Jules. And we could all go to the Bluebonnet Festival together."
"What do you say, Jules?"
"I'd like that very much."
"Then it's settled. I'll let Grace know this afternoon."
They all settled into a comfortable silence, finishing the last of their breakfasts and enjoying the crackle and pop of the fire. After several minutes had passed, Kevin glanced over at Jules. He caught her eye and she blushed, looking down.
"What are you thinking, Jules?"
"I was trying to decide if I look like you at all."
"My eyes look like yours, though a different color. They're the same shape. And then I have your mouth, and we both have curly hair, but yours is black and mine is brown."
"You look a lot like Arabella, except more like a genuine, lovely woman, whereas she always looked a bit washed out and half empty."
Jules stared silently into the fire for a few minutes before replying. "I've prayed every day since I can remember that God would allow me to be different from her. I don't mind looking like her, but I want to follow God, and she didn't."
"Well you do, and I'm thankful to see that. I've prayed for you every day for the last five years."
"Aww," Jules smiled down at her hands. "Thank you."
Duncan beamed at both of his children and sighed happily. "Thank God He listened to all of our prayers over the years."
Jules nodded thoughtfully before standing up. "I'd better get these dishes out of the way."
Kevin stood up and started to gather the coffee mugs. "I'll help. Besides, Dad looks like he could use a nap."
"That I could. You young folks enjoy the soapy water and soggy oatmeal slime."
"I thought you liked oatmeal, Grandad!"
"I like to eat it; I just don't particularly enjoy cleaning up after it."
"Good to know. The dish rags are in that drawer right there with the Cardinal painted on the handle, Kevin."
"Thanks. So, Jules, tell me about yourself. What are some of your hobbies?" He handed her a soapy dish to rinse and dry.
"I love to read, paint, and bake."
"Cool. I see Dad has taught you to properly appreciate literature. What are some of your long term plans?"
"Take care of Grandad. Hopefully get married someday. Meanwhile, there's a swanky coffee shop in Dallas that sells my paintings for me. In return they get ten percent of the profits. Plus, I refer customers to them."
"That's really neat! What's the shop called?"
"Cat's Corner. It's a neat shop, and they really do make good coffee. They make an amazing lavender white chocolate mocha."
"That sounds really interesting."
"Yeah, but it's good. You should try it sometime." Jules looked down at her hands and continued wiping dishes dry and putting them away. The silence stretched on uncomfortably for several minutes. She cleared her throat. "So, tell me about how you met Arabella. I've always wanted to know."
"She was a ballet dancer, and I was a rich kid with a taste for anything high class." Kevin sighed and shook his head slowly, summoning the forgotten memories. "I met her after a show one night and we hit it off pretty good. We dated for a few months before she found out she was pregnant, and I got mad when she wouldn't get an abortion. I'm so sorry, I know this is really hard for you to hear." He drew a shaky breath and turned to look at Jules. His eyes were melting with genuine regret. "I hope you know I'm not proud of who I was then."
Jules smiled gravely, wiping her towel across the front of the plate she held. "It's okay. I'd rather know and it hurt me a little than go on wondering about it. Besides, you're here now, and that says a lot."
"Thank you. Anyways, we broke up then. You know she was on drugs; that business is really hard on girls. They're under a lot of pressure to keep their weight down. Not to mention the fact that they exercise hard and rarely ever sleep. Arabella was practically starving, but she looked beautiful to me with her makeup on and her classy little dresses she'd wear. But I'm getting off track. We got into a big fight one night, over you, and it ended with me leaving." Kevin paused, leaning against the ledge of the sink. The lines around his mouth tightened and contracted, and his eyes deepened with genuine grief. He swiped restlessly at his forehead with the back of his soapy hand. It was as if he wished to wipe away the history behind his words. "I was drunk and upset and she was under the influence of whatever pill it was she was taking at the time. I never even saw a picture of you as a baby, Jules. I was gone a few months before you were born."
Jules dried her hands and hopped up to sit on the counter next to the sink. She picked up the glass of water she had left sitting there and took a sip from it before cradling it between her hands. "Did you ever see Arabella after that?"
"A few times." Kevin leaned up against the counter across from Jules. "You know she's still alive, right?"
The water glass slipped from her hands and shattered across the tile floor with a raucous crash. Jules gasped, and slowly lowered herself to the floor where she began to pick up wet shards of crystal clear glass with shaking fingers.
"Careful there." Kevin looked concerned. He pulled the trash bin closer and glanced around the room for a broom and dustpan. "Are you okay?"
Jules settled into her heels, raking in a shaky sigh. "I-I'm just a little surprised I guess. I always just supposed she died after I was born."
"It's okay, really," she said, looking like she was not fine at all. "Where is she now?"
Kevin sighed. "She was somewhere in Arizona last I heard."
"I wonder why Grandad didn't tell me."
"I don't know," he shook his head. "That's something you'd have to ask him yourself."
Let me know if the conversations are hard to follow. This was the hardest chapter to write so far. *nervious grin*