Jules sat on the edge of the counter, a dazed look on her face. She brought her hand up to her heart, trying to still its wild beating. A tear slipped out of the corner of her eye.
Kevin reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay, Jules?" His voice held genuine concern.
"I don't know. Yes... no. I'll be okay. I just need to wrap my brain around this. What is she doing now? Is she clean? Do you know?"
"No, I mean, last I heard she was a few months clean. But Jules, that was twelve years ago."
"Do you have contact information for her?"
"I have a phone number, but who knows if she's still got the same number at this point."
Duncan appeared in the doorway, his voice tight. "Are you wanting to meet Arabella, Jules?"
"I don't know, Grandad. I really don't know. I just--after living my life with all these questions... sometimes I think I'd like to talk to her."
Duncan put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Pray about it."
"I will, Grandad." Jules leaned against the counter for several moments. On impulse she walked to the entryway and grabbed her shoes and headphones. "I'm gonna go take a walk for a bit. I'll see y'all later." Jules wrapped her jacket and scarf around herself and stuffed her phone into her pocket. She disappeared out the front door, throwing a wave and small smile over her shoulder.
Kevin sighed. "Will she be okay by herself? Should I catch up with her?"
"No, let her be. Walking by herself is her way of coping with things she doesn't understand. She appreciates the time to pray and sing without distractions."
"Just like Mama used to."
"Yes. She is a lot like your mother."
Kevin slumped into one of the kitchen chairs. He sighed again, leaning on his elbows. "I still miss her so much."
"I miss your mother too, Kevin. Your being gone for so many years after she died made that pain even deeper for me."
"I'm so sorry," Kevin sobbed into his hands. "I didn't know how to deal with it."
"I didn't, either, but that's one of the blessings of being a family; you learn to deal with these things together." He put his arms around his son, resting his cheek against Kevin's hair. "You're here now, so we can start over if you'd like."
"I'd love that, Dad."
When Jules walked back up her driveway, she saw someone sitting on the front steps. She squinted, trying to see if it was her Grandad or Kevin. She realized it was Martin's car that was parked in front of the house. She smiled when she saw him stand up and walk over to meet her. "Hey Martin! What are you doing here?"
"I came over to give you this," he handed her a small gift bag. "And to tell you that Mama seems to be doing pretty well. Your grandpa said you were out walking, so I just waited out here for you."
"What is it?"
Martin laughed. "I guess you'll have to open it up and see. Say, I thought I heard two guys inside, and there's a new car out here. Is someone visiting?"
Jules grinned, her eyes twinkling up at him. "Well done, detective. Your deductions are correct. Come on," she opened the door. "I want you to meet someone."
Martin followed Jules inside. He paused nervously in front of the living room couch. The gentleman sitting on the couch looked a little bit familiar, though Martin knew he'd never met him before.
"Martin, I'd like you to meet Kevin Keith. My father. Kevin, this is my good friend, Martin Ortiz."
Kevin stood up and shook hands with him. "It's nice to meet you, Martin."
"It's nice to meet you, too. Jules, you didn't tell me you--when did...?"
Jules laughed at his confusion. "He got here last night, Martin, and I was even more confused and surprised than you are now. But I think I'm glad he's here." She smiled shyly at Kevin, and his eyes mirrored her contented expression.
"How long will you be staying, Sir?"
"Three more days. And please, call me Kevin. What's in the bag, Jules?"
"I don't know. Should I go ahead and open it, Martin?"
"Yes, Mama said you can open it whenever. It's just a thank-you gift."
Kevin cocked his head to one side and looked at Jules. "Thank you for what?"
"Umm, it was really unnecessary. I didn't do much-"
Martin cut in. "She dropped everything this week to be with my mother in the hospital when she had a stroke. She even picked me up from the airport at 4 in the morning, then dropped in a few times so I could sleep. And then she drove us both home once my mom was released on Wednesday."
Kevin looked at Jules, who was trying desperately to keep from blushing rosy red from the tips of her ears to the curve of her chin. "Did you really do all of that?"
"I, I suppose I did."
Kevin laughed at her embarrassment. "Open your gift young lady; you've earned it."
Duncan walked into the living room and looked around at all of the smiling faces. "Hello Martin. No, don't get up; I'm just going to sit down here. I meant to call you yesterday and see how things are going, but as you can see I have had my hands full with these two. Do you think you and Margaret would feel up to coming here for dinner tomorrow evening?"
"Yes, I think so. I'll ask her once I get home, and let you know."
Jules cut in with an excited squeal. "Look, Grandad!"
"What is it?"
"Margaret found me a hardback copy of Dwell Deep! I can't believe this. Look how pretty it is! I'll have to run and write a thank-you note. Do you have enough time to wait, Martin?"
He smiled at her, and nodded his head. "Yes, I can wait. You go ahead."
"Thank you!" And Jules ran excitedly from the room, holding her new book to her chest.
Kevin turned to Duncan. "I take it that's a favorite of hers?"
"Yes," Duncan smiled. "She has been looking for a copy for a long time, but neither of us could find one. Martin's mother used to read it to Jules when she was a little girl, and it's been special to her ever since. How did your mother manage it, Martin?"
"She happened upon it at a garage sale last weekend, and felt like it would be the perfect birthday gift for Jules. But she had a really hard time keeping it to herself (you know how Mama is with surprises and secrets), so she decided to go ahead and give it to her now. She couldn't stand to wait an extra month or so."
"She should have waited until she could see Jules face when she opened it."
Martin winked. "I may or may not have taken a video to share with her when I get home."
"Ooh!" Kevin leaned forward. Please send that to me. I'll get your number from Dad and send you mine."
Duncan coughed loudly and turned towards Jules, who had just walked back into the room. "There you are!"
"All three of you look guilty. What's up?"
"Nothing, nothing. You're just in time; Martin has to go now."
"Uh yeah," Martin glanced at his watch, not even noting the time. "I do. I need to get back to Mama."
"Oh, okay. Here's a note for her, and please give her a hug from me."
"Will do. I'll see y'all tomorrow night. Hopefully. I'll let you know what Mama says, Duncan."
"Sounds good. We'll see you later."
Jules started to walk towards the door with him.
"No worries, I'll let myself out. 'Bye, Jules."
Once Martin had driven off, Jules walked back into the living room. "I know something's up, but I suppose it would be no use to quiz you two. I'm going to go work on lunch, so please try and stay out of trouble."
"What are you making for lunch?"
"I don't know yet, Grandad. We'll see what's in the fridge. Maybe leftover soup. Oh, I know!" Jules bounced back from behind the counter, a loaf of bread in hand. "How does grilled cheese and tomato soup sound to you two?"
"That sounds great! Are you okay with that, Kevin?"
"Yeah! Sounds good. Hey, why don't I read to you while you cook, Jules?"
Jules paused her rummaging through the dairy drawer just long enough to peek over the top of the fridge door. "Would you?"
"Yes. I'd like to. What book are you currently reading?"
"I was just about to start In His Steps. I think I put it on the coffee table."
"I'll go get it."
"Thanks!" Jules ran her stick of butter over the heated griddle and listened to the sizzle of the melting grease. She liked how it smelled like home. "Hey Grandad?"
"Did you say that Martin and Margaret are coming over for dinner tomorrow night?"
"I invited them. Martin was going to let me know. Oh! That must be him. Here, Kevin hold my phone for a second." Duncan winked and then walked into the living room. Kevin looked puzzled for a second, and then chuckled before sitting on one of the four stools lined up in apple-pie order in front of the counter.
"Hmm? So what?"
"What did Martin say about tomorrow night?"
"Oh. Oh! Yeah, he said they can come. He asked what time."
"Tell him we'll plan to eat at six-thirty. Here, taste this." She held a steaming spoonful of soup in front of Kevin's face.
He leaned back slightly, sniffing gingerly. "What is it?"
"Soup. I need to know if I put enough salt in it."
He sniffed one more time before cautiously taking the spoon from her. "Is it going to burn my tongue?"
Jules smirked. "No guarantees. But ya know you could always blow on it." She turned back to her sandwiches and picked her spatula back up.
"Mmmm. Mm. This is perfect."
"Good. Hey, where's Dad? I thought he'd be right back."
"I don't know," Jules looked worried. "Would you mind checking on him?"
"Sure. I'll be right back." Kevin swung his legs around the stool and hopped off, disappearing around the corner into the living room.
Jules heard him calling from where she stood in the kitchen.
"Dad? Dad, are you in here? He must be in the back, Jules!"
"Okay!" She called, flipping another sandwich. She stirred the soup, staring out the kitchen window. The wind was calmly playing with the leaves of the elm trees. They reminded her of a song, and she begun to sing it. "Here in this worn and weary land where many a dream has died; like a tree planted by the water we never will run dry. So living water flowing through, God, we thirst for more of You. Fill our hearts and flood our souls with one desire: just to know You and to make You known we lift Your name on high. Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide. We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives: It's time for us to more than just survive; we were made to thrive." Jules sighed happily while she kept an eye on the griddle and stirred the soup. She hummed the rest of her song, randomly singing a line or two out loud. She looked up when Kevin walked back into the kitchen. "Where's Grandad?"
"He fell asleep in the library. I wasn't sure if I should wake him up or not."
"Hmm," Jules turned her griddle off after putting the last sandwich on her tray. "Lunch is pretty much ready so I'll go get him. Could you please keep stirring my soup? I don't want it to burn."
"Sure." Kevin took her place in front of the stove. He listened tentatively as Jules made her way back to the library. He heard her gently talking to his dad.
"Hey Grandad? Lunch is ready. Grandad?"
Kevin dropped his ladle, listening with all of his being.
Kevin ran out into the hallway, panic written over his face. "Jules? Everything okay?"
Better late than never!