"Grandad, will you play with me?"
Duncan smiled at the little girl while he closed his book. His voice was chipper, as per usual.
"Of course! What do you want to play?"
She looked mischievous.
"Will you play dolls with me?"
"Of course, Sweetheart."
The minutes passed by quickly while Duncan spoke in a high voice, and dressed Only Hearts Club dolls many times over. The two were so engrossed in their play that they didn't hear the knock on the front door, or notice when the visitor let himself in.
"Well well well, what have we here."
Unfazed, Duncan glanced over his shoulder. He made his current doll wave while he spoke in an unearthly high voice for a gentleman his age.
"Come and play with us, Danny!"
"Yes, come play! You can be Sophia, Mr. McCarthy."
"Thank you, Jules; I think I will."
He was handed a small doll, and the shoebox which contained her wardrobe. He stretched his voice to accommodate Jules, and was rewarded with a bubble of sweet laughter, accompanied by a loud guffaw from his friend.
Minutes stretched into hours, and before they knew it, it was past dinner time.
"My, how time flies when you're having fun! I never thought I'd say this about playing dolls with my little girl, but, let's do that again sometime. Soon."
Daniel McCarthy slapped his shoulder in a goodnatured way.
"Just be sure to invite me when you do. Jules, how does pizza sound for a late dinner? It's on me tonight, Duncan.
"I love pizza!!"
"Then it's settled. I'll call little Caesars right now. Would you like breadsticks with your pizza?"
"Jules, why don't you pick a movie for us to watch?"
"Okay Grandad. I pick...Cinderella."
He smiled indulgently and patted her cheek.
"Sounds good. Can you get it ready?"
Jules was off with a laugh. Daniel hung up his phone, and joined Duncan. They watched while Jules hummed to herself over the DVD player.
"She's come a long way in the last six months, friend."
Duncan nodded in agreement.
"Yes, yes she has. God is good."
Jules sat cross-legged on the floor of her bedroom. She was pulling paper memories and keepsakes out of a cedar chest.
"It's been too long," she said to herself. "I don't even remember keeping half of these things. Why, what's this?"
Jules pulled out three old shoeboxes and pulled off the lids one-by-one. She gasped. They held the entire collection of Only Hearts Club dolls, with all of their small pets and multiple sets of clothes. They were in mint condition. She pulled one of the dolls out, and ran her fingers over its life-like curly hair.
She suddenly burst into laughter over a memory.
"I had forgotten about that! I'm so glad I kept these. No, Sophia; I won't get rid of you. Not ever."
She put the lids back onto the shoeboxes, and added them to the corner with the other things she planned to keep.
"Hey Jules. Do you have a few minutes?"
"Of course! What's up?"
"Not much, I just have a short break and I miss hearing your voice."
Jules laughed. Martin was always doing little things like this, and she loved it.
"We were just together last night, Dear."
"I know, but it seems forever ago. I miss you. How many more days until the wedding?"
"Umm let me think...One-hundred and Twenty-nine."
"Wow. I swear, it gets longer every time I ask you."
"No it doesn't, you crazy You. Are you nervous?"
"No. Why would I be? I get to marry the love of my life! Have you been able to find contact info for your old friends?"
"Ann and Mr. McCarthy? Nope. I've pretty much given up. It's like they disappeared off of the face of the earth! I've tried social media, phone books, everything. They're just not out there."
"I'm sorry, love. Pray about it."
"I will. Thank you."
"No problem. Anyways, my break is over."
"Okay. I love you!"
"I love you more."
He hung up before she could argue. Jules smiled and hugged herself. This was her dream-come-true, her fairytale fulfilled; her answered prayer. Her Knight had come, and he was more than she had hoped for.
She walked over to her closet and pulled out the protective plastic case. Unzipping it, she let the shimmery folds of silvery-white tulle cascade across her lap. On impulse, she doffed her home clothes and donned the gown. Jules walked a slow circle around the room, and then paused in front of her full-length mirror. She caught her breath.
"This is too good to be true. I feel like Cinderella," she whispered. "I am Cinderella."
"That's true. Do you have any friends from the church you were visiting?"
Jules shook her head.
"Not really, no. There was a young couple with a baby that I enjoyed being around, but we barely knew each other, and they moved to Tennessee about a week before Martin and I broke up. We never got around to exchanging contact info."
"I see. That's just too bad. Well, should we join Miles and feed the ducks?"
Jules smiled at the drop from serious to fun.
"Sure! Sounds good."
They walked over to the edge of the water. On impulse, Jules slipped off her flats and let her toes sink into the lush grass.
Miles handed her a piece of bread from his bag. He slipped his own shoes and socks off and decided to get his toes wet. Jules sat down beside him.
"How often do you come here?"
"Not often enough. I love it. It's so peaceful, regardless of the ducks. They're just happy noises, so they don't bother me."
"'Happy noises.' I like your way of putting it."
"Mm. Thanks. I think Pops said it, first, about Grandma's laugh. Ever since then I've used the description for all of my favorite noises."
"What are some of your favorite noises?"
"Hmm...babies laughing, ducks cackling, Toby purring, the sound it makes when you knock on the front door, and last but not least, Pop's voice calling me 'Son.'"
"I like that list. I'm not too sure about the second-to-last, though..."
"I don't know. I've gotten so used to you coming over on Fridays that it felt funny when you weren't here last week."
"I'm glad you enjoy it. I missed being with y'all, too, but it was good for me to have that time on the road. It made me face some questions in my mind that I really just needed to talk myself through."
"That's really good. I'm glad you got to do that. Do you talk out loud when you're working through stuff?"
"Yes," she sighed. "I do. I'm not sure that it's the best habit to have because now I do it all the time, but it helps. I guess it just makes things clearer in my mind."
"I do that, too. My dad used to do it, so I guess that's where I got it."
"Can you, well, Miles?"
"Would you mind very much if I ask you to tell me about your parents?"
"Of course I don't mind."
"Good. I didn't want to be insensitive. So, tell me about your parents."
"It wouldn't be insensitive. You've told me all about your background, so it's only fair that I tell you about mine."
"Whatever you say."
"Thanks. So, my parents were fairly young when they got married. I believe they were twenty-two and twenty-three. Mom was a Kindergarten teacher, and Dad was a mechanic. Mom quit her job when she found out she was expecting me. She died during childbirth."
"Oh," Jules caught her breath. "I'm so sorry."
"Thank you. It was tough, growing up without a mother. My mom's younger sister took care of me for my dad, and he wound up marrying her when I was twelve. I loved her, so I was happy when it happened. Dad asked me to be the best man."
"How sweet! I like that."
Jules clapped her hands. Her eyes sparkled, and she was watching Miles' expressions change while he talked.
"Yeah, it was a special time. They delayed their Honeymoon until I was nearly sixteen. I stayed with Pops while they were gone. They never came back."
Miles' voice grew husky, and Jules looked down that the water around her toes. She impulsively put her hand on his shoulder.
"I'm so sorry."
"Thank you. It was a plane crash. There were no survivors. So, Pops took me in permanently. It took us a little bit of time to get used to each other, but thank God, it worked out. The rest is history."
"I'm glad you're happy now."
Angus walked back over to where they sat. His eyes twinkled.
"It's about time we headed back. I suspect Toby is impatient to see you, Jules."
"Oh! I almost forgot about Toby."
Miles gave her a hand up and passed her her shoes.
Miles looked over at Angus. He was still sleeping. At least, he appeared to be asleep. There was really no telling. He was capable of all kinds of mischief. Miles smiled.
She looked up from reloading her pistol. Her eyes were smiling in reflection of her happy thoughts.
"I was wondering...would you meet me for breakfast at Unshakable Grounds tomorrow morning? There's something I'd like to talk to you about."
Jules' heart skipped a beat. She tried to hide the excitement in her eyes.
"Yes, I can. What time?"
"Is seven okay?"
"Yes, that's perfect."
There was a slight pause. Miles looked over at Angus. His eyelids were pulsing, and his breathing was normal. Miles tried not to laugh.
"I guess I'd better wake Pops up so we can go home. Would you like me to do anything to the fire?"
"No, thank you. I think I'll sit up a little while longer."
He walked over to where Angus was sitting, and gently patted his shoulder. Angus's eyes popped open a little too quickly, but he let out a very convincing yawn.
"What time is it?"
"It's quarter past ten, Pops. We'd better go."
Angus sighed while he put Toby down. He pushed himself out of his chair.
"Well okay. Thank you for your hospitality, Jules. Dinner was superb."
Jules beamed at him.
"You're absolutely welcome. I guess I'll see you on Friday."
"Goodnight Jules. I'll see you in the morning."
Angus raised an eyebrow. Jules smiled.
"Yes, I'll see you. Goodnight, Miles."
As soon as the door was closed behind them Angus looked over at Miles. Miles grinned from ear to ear.
"So, did you ask her?"
"Well, I asked her to meet me for breakfast at the coffee shop so I could talk to her about something."
"How did she respond? Was she surprised? Do you think she suspects anything?"
"I don't know, Pops. She didn't seem upset."
"Good, good. What time are y'all meeting?"
"I'll be praying."
They went inside.
"You always talk about how beautiful Jules' character is, but do you have any romantic thoughts about her? I know this is early on, but still, you do need to think about that a little bit."
Miles smiled, and eased himself onto the couch. He patted the spot next to him, and Angus sat down.
"Of course, Pops. I do try to keep my thoughts and feelings on that subject in proper perspective, but, I do think that Jules is just about the prettiest woman I've ever met. I love how I can count the stars in her eyes. They sparkle, so brilliantly; it's almost like a whole new constellation to try and memorize."
Miles' gaze was lost in the empty fireplace. Angus chuckled, and then patted him on the back.
"I see now that I had nothing to worry about. Goodnight."
Angus wandered off to bed while Miles took his Bible out to the porch swing. He had some praying to do, too.
Meanwhile, Jules had made herself a cup of hot cocoa and curled back up on the couch. She picked up her Bible and journal and put them across the pillow on her lap. Staring into the fire, a slow smile began to spread across her face.
...for input. Constructive comments are more than welcome. :) I've written 19 chapters so far, but am still not prepared to share them in entirety. At least not yet. :) maybe soon.