Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 6 months, 1 week, 4 days
“So…how’s daddy been?” Rebecca asked.
Hillary sighed and slumped into the chair, rocking it with her toes. “Same.” She shrugged and shook her head. “I stopped trying to get him to go back upstairs.”
Rebecca rocked Abigail back and forth. “You should keep trying. If you stop, he might think you don’t care anymore. He’ll come around eventually.”
Her calm voice reassured her. Hillary knew she was right. The way he snapped into action in the delivery room was a testament to how things could suddenly become clear for him. But, she hated to see him so anguished. Everyone still hurt, but his pain ran the deepest.
“What about you?” her sister asked, still smiling and making the baby laugh. “You handling being back at work all right?”
She rolled her eyes. “Six weeks of maternity leave is a joke!”
“It’s not enough time! I only work four hours, but I still miss her so much. I’m not ready!”
Rebecca took a break from entertaining Abigail and smiled lovingly at her little sister. “You’ll never be ready. May as well get it over with.”
She turned her attention back to the baby, and the sisters enjoyed a brief moment of silence. Abigail broke it with happy squeals and shrieks as her aunt continued to make faces at her.
“Jase still watches her while you’re gone?”
“How are you two?”
Hillary smirked at their conversation. Playing 20 Questions seemed to be the way they conversed in those days. At times it felt clinical and stiff, but that was Rebecca. Hillary wished she saw her more as a sister and less like a child who needed looking after, but she would take 20 Questions any day over the nothing they used to have.
She briefly admired her sister. Rebecca exuded confidence and had always appeared to be so well put together…just like their mother. She wondered if she would ever be that way.
“We’re all right.”
“What does that mean?” she asked more like a statement.
Hillary snorted. “It means we’re ok,” she said with a bit of attitude.
Rebecca glanced at her. “You know what I mean.”
She sighed. “There’s nothing to tell! We’re just…getting reacquainted, that’s all.”
Of course, she knew what she was getting at. Thoughts of their relationship plagued her especially when he was around. Denying her flesh what it wanted while focusing on the goal proved to be difficult. She knew regaining his trust wasn’t something that would happen over night, and she didn’t want to jeopardize it by repeating the past. She had to stay focused. Thinking about their future made her anxious, and when she was anxious, she behaved brashly. Behaving brashly got them to where they were. Hillary wanted their friendship back, and that is what she focused on to keep herself in line. Yet and still, she doubted at times. Was she wasting her time? Did she really deserve someone as wonderful as Jase? Deep down she knew she deserved a second chance, but sometimes thoughts of sending him away for fear of ruining his life again swirled about her head.
She hoped changing the subject would get the target off her back. “How did you and Jack meet?”
Rebecca’s eyes widened in surprise for a quick second. Abigail yawned and gave her aunt slow blinks, so Rebecca placed her back into the crib for a nap.
“We first met in a department store.” She giggled at the memories before they came out. “I was in the checkout line, and this handsome, young guy–he couldn’t have been much older than you–out of nowhere, he said, ‘Are you an usher at the church?'”
Rebecca laughed while Hillary watched her and waited for the rest of the story.
“See that look on your face? I’m pretty sure that’s what I looked like. I noticed his eyes. They were so dark. I’d never seen anyone with eyes so dark. They were kind though. He didn’t say anything and stood there smiling. I glanced down at my outfits to stop staring at him. That’s when I noticed all my outfits including the one I had on were white.”
“Oh! I was wondering. That’s a good one! Why do you like white so much anyway?”
Rebecca glanced at the ceiling as if she never considered it before. “It’s a great color. Pure and clean. I love it.”
Hillary snorted. “You have too many kids to wear white all the time.”
She shook her head. “My dear, you have much to learn about raising children. They don’t have to run your life, you know. You’ll need to learn to maintain control.”
Hillary rolled her eyes and thought she sounded like their mother. There was no way she would hold the reigns as tight as Harriett did and planned to find her own way to maintain order and teach Abigail valuable lessons.
“Anyway…what happened with Jack?”
Rebecca sighed and looked disappointed. Hillary did not deny her ignorance as it pertained to motherhood, but she grew tired of being preached at. Everyone always thought they knew better than her because they were older, and they probably did, but why did everyone feel the need to impose? If she wanted advice, she’d ask for it.
“I quickly dismissed any notions of me and church and told him I just liked the color.” A soft smile snuck on her face. “He said it was a good color for me.”
Hillary grinned. “Oooh! Silver-tongued devil! What happened next? Did he ask you out?”
“No. I bought my outfits, said goodbye, and never thought I’d see him again.”
“Hey, I wasn’t trying to date anyone back then. I was in therapy and getting my life in order.”
She wanted to say, “but he was cute and totally into you,” but she recognized that had always been. She entertained any and everyone who gave her the time of day–minus Jase. Sometimes she did feel the need to be alone and figure herself out, but when a handsome face stole her attention, she gladly let him have it.
“Nevermind,” she said. “So you must have run into him again.”
“Mmm hmm. The next week.”
“I was at the park with the kids. He saw me making a fool of myself on the playground. The jungle gym was a pirate ship, and they always wanted me to pretend to be a sea monster.” She chuckled at the memories of her young children.
Hillary marveled at how different her sister was in those days. She couldn’t imagine Rebecca playing with Mallory like that today although being an aunt seemed to agree with her. Perhaps in a year or two, she could see the old Rebecca make a comeback.
“He came up behind me, laughing, and said, ‘We have to stop meeting like this!'”
“I didn’t know Jack was so clever.”
Rebecca shot her a sly glance. “You have to be clever to get this one.”
“Anyway, we talked for a little–“
“PLEASE tell me he gave you his number!”
“He did. I didn’t call him for a while though.”
Hillary rolled her eyes. “Why??”
“Is it really that hard to figure out? Use your head.”
It really wasn’t hard to figure out. Although she knew everyone wasn’t as quick to draw as she was, she didn’t completely understand why. Drawing from her current experience, however, she knew how uncertain her sister must have felt. Learning to be open and trust herself couldn’t have been easy.
“So how long did it take you to call him?”
Rebecca took a seat on a bean bag. “Two weeks.”
“Not much. We talked every now and then, and he became my activity partner.”
Hillary laughed. “Activity partner? What in the world does that mean?”
“You know…the person I did activities with!”
“You mean your hang out guy?”
A pulse of electricity zinged down Hillary’s spine as those words exited her mouth. She remembered when she met Jesse he declared himself to be her hang out guy. She hadn’t thought of him in forever. More than a year had passed since then, and he probably moved on, but she felt so guilty and resolved to make amends soon.
“If that’s what you young people call it these days. We hung out for a year. We were friends, so I had introduced him to the children and everything. He even babysat for me a few times when I had to work late or go out of town.”
That was the Jack she knew. Hillary always thought it was amazing how the best parts of people never changed. “Awww. That’s so sweet.”
“He’s always been sweet.”
“So, how did you move past friendship? Did you like like him at all?”
“Of course I did. You know Jack.”
“So what happened?”
“He spilled the beans. That’s the only way it would happen because I wasn’t going to say anything. Not with my history…. We dated for about six months before he proposed, and we married within the year.”
Hillary loved happy endings. Essentially, all she had been trying to do with her life was have a happy ending while she failed to plan for what happened in the middle of the story.
“Speaking of spilling beans,” Hillary said and looked over her shoulder. Juliana had been painting on her balcony which was right outside the window behind her. She leaned in and whispered, “Juliana and Kevin FINALLY got together!”
Rebecca gasped. “Did they?”
“Mmm hmm! I was coming downstairs one night, and I saw them on the porch about to kiss!”
“Oh my! Well, good! She needs someone else to lean on now that mama isn’t here.”
“Yeah. I’m happy for her. It’s still frustrating that it took so doggone long!”
Rebecca chuckled. “Hey…there’s nothing wrong with that. Would you have preferred she jumped into the relationship unprepared? Who knows what could have happened by now.”
“I guess. I gotta get dinner ready. Are you gonna stay?”
“Sure. I’ll come help in a minute. I’m gonna go say hi to Juliana.”
The two sisters went their separate ways. Hillary went through the living room to get to the kitchen so she could check on her father on the sly.
“Hey daddy,” she said cheerfully.
Just as she crossed the threshold to the hallway, she heard him say, “Your mama would be proud.”