Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 7 months, 2 weeks, 1 day
Ever since Hillary and Rebecca caught up a month ago, she had been thinking about making amends with Jesse. She wanted to do it. She needed to do it. But, she was hesitant. What if he was angry? What if he didn’t care? What if he still hung on? Was she strong enough to resist? They had a connection. What if it was still there?
On a whim, she decided to talk to Jase about it. Honesty and openness were the keys to repairing their friendship, and he deserved to know if she were going to potentially poke at a beehive. He came by a bit early one evening while Hillary got ready for work. When she came out of the bathroom, he had Abigail on the changing table. Hillary enjoyed watching him. He always changed diapers so dramatically with silly voices and faces. Abigail still screamed bloody murder, but he tried to make it better for her.
“Oh, hey,” he said when Hillary entered the room. “You know what I think we need? One of those warmers for the wipes.”
“Hmmm…yeah, that probably would make it better for her.”
“I’ll pick one up soon.”
Hillary loved how easy it was to co-parent with Jase. She didn’t have to spend much of her own money on their daughter because Jase took care of everything. He made three times as much as she did and probably should have spent more on principle, but she never had to imply she needed his help. If the diapers ran low, he showed up the next day with a brand new case. If she mentioned she saw something she wanted to get for Abigail, he’d say, “I’ll get it.” Jase had always been that way, but sometimes she wondered if he was compensating for not being a full-time parent. Abigail didn’t know any different, and Hillary appreciated how much he was around.
“What’s up?” he asked.
He must have sensed her nervousness.
“Oh…I wanted to tell you something…”
He finished up with Abigail. “What’s up?”
“I, uhhh…” She had no reason to be nervous, but that didn’t stop the butterflies. “I’ve been thinking about apologizing to someone…but I wanted to talk to you about it first.”
One of his eyebrows raised. “Oh?”
“Yeah…” She wiped her sweaty palms on her skirt. “It’s someone I used to like.”
He chuckled. “Ok…why are you acting weird?”
“I just…I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.”
He smiled. “I appreciate the thought, but if it’s something you feel you need to do, you should do it.”
She breathed a sigh of relief.
Abigail began whining again. Hillary had gotten good at recognizing what each cry meant. That one was the I’m feeling ignored look at me whimper. Ignoring her was the right thing to do in those moments, but it was difficult.
“If you don’t mind me asking…who is it?”
“Jesse…” She could see the wheels turning in his head.
“Oh.” He didn’t sound as nonchalant as she wanted. “I didn’t think you saw him again.”
“I didn’t. He tried to contact me and I ignored him…you know how that is.”
He looked surprised. “I see. Well…I’m sure he’d appreciate it,” he said slowly.
He laughed nervously. “Of course.”
She knew he wasn’t the jealous type, but he loved her and wanted her back. The thought of her good deed potentially stalling the process of their relationship troubled her, and she hoped he wasn’t bluffing; he wasn’t very convincing.
Hillary broke their gaze as the shrill sound of Abigail’s screams hit her eardrums. “Ok, ok…” She picked up the infant and cradled her. Abigail immediately calmed down. One day soon Hillary hoped she would build up the courage to not pick her up every time she cried. “I have to go, baby girl. You’re gonna have all kinds of fun with daddy, right?” She got in a few kisses before she handed her to Jase.
Abigail began wailing again and sent Hillary’s anxiety level through the roof.
“What’s this?” Jase said. “You know we have a great time together, Abbie!”
Abigail didn’t care and just wanted her mother.
“Just go. I got it,” Jase whispered and proceeded to occupy the baby’s attention.
Hillary scooted out the room and a few tears fell. Everyone told her it would get easier to leave her child, but it was still painful.
Later that night, she called Jesse to ask him to meet her the next day. Being the gentleman he said he was, he asked if she was ok. She knew he’d be alarmed by the randomness of the phone call, but he took it well and agreed to see her. She had no doubts about his character and believed they would be able to have a civil conversation no matter what state he was in. Still, she took caution to ensure nothing untoward would take placed. Dressing tacky or giving herself a make-under were things she would never do to ward off men, but she made sure to wear an outfit that reflected who she was at the time: a mother who loved her child’s father and looked forward to their future together as a family. There was no room for anyone else in that scenario. Period.
“Thanks for meeting me.”
She hadn’t been to the park in Oasis Springs since childhood and was amazed by how it had been transformed over the years. The park had been divided into sections, and a new section just for toddlers was added recently. It was so cute. She couldn’t wait to take Abigail there when she was big enough. Speaking of Abigail, Hillary wasn’t sure if she wanted to mention her to Jesse. She was in no way ashamed of her daughter; she had gotten over being an unwed mother long before she even gave birth. But, having a child involves a man, and admitting there had been a man after she ditched Jesse may add insult to injury. She had hurt too many people too many times and didn’t want to further extend anyone’s pain.
“Yeah…I can’t say I wasn’t surprised.”
Hillary didn’t know where to begin. Did she make small talk first? Come straight out with it? Feel him out? Why did it have to be so hard?
She spit it out. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve to be treated that way no matter what my reasons were.”
She wondered what he was thinking about and continued apologizing. “I thought I was ready to…” He didn’t need to know about her demons. “I didn’t plan to go out with you and never speak to you again…I’m sorry.”
He smiled. “I was worried about you.” His tone was soft and sweet. “You disappeared so quickly, I thought something may have happened to you.”
As she feared, her disappearance didn’t go unnoticed. “I’m so sorry. I…I tend to do that. Or, I used to. I was selfish. I did a lot of things wrong, but…I’m fine. I’m still alive.” She shrugged playfully.
He looked like he wanted to know what had transpired in her life but refrained. “I know what you mean.”
She exhaled the breath she had been holding. Of course he knew what she meant. Jesse was real. He knew things. Judging the cryptic tone in his voice, he might have had his own problems.
“I know it was a while ago, and I’m sorry to bring up the past…and I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long, but I just had to tell you.
“I appreciate it.”
There was a look in his eye she couldn’t place. Part of her wanted to say goodbye and jet before she found out what the look was for while the other part was curious enough to stick around.
“So…how are you?” he asked.
“I’m doing good now.” She could have kicked herself for such a cryptic response. Maybe she wanted to tell him about what transpired in her life.
“That’s great. Are you seeing anyone?”
She forgot how attractive his forwardness made him, but she was getting sidetracked. How could she answer the question honestly without leaving any doors open? “It’s complicated” was too open. While a simple “no” was true, it wasn’t entirely true and would probably poke the beehive. “Yes” would be a lie. Her eyes circled the canopy under where they sat until she came up with the perfect response.
“I’m not seeing anyone, but I’m not available.”
She started to utter the words “I’m sorry” again, but what did she have to be sorry for? Certainly not for being in the healthiest place of her life so far or for working toward being with the one with whom she wanted to share her life. If Jesse still had a flame for her, that was his problem. She already apologized for her transgressions.
“I understand,” he said.
She didn’t mind his questions, but she didn’t come there to be interrogated and took back control. “What about you? How have you been?”
“Uhhh…” he smiled nervously. “Well, you might remember how honest I am, so I may as well tell you what’s going on.”
She got nervous.
“I was a little bit mad when you disappeared. I kept trying to tell myself we only went out once and I shouldn’t feel that way, but…well, you know. I got over it, eventually, but I still thought of you every now and then. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was so guarded and skeptical of everyone after that.”
Ouch. She didn’t want to know how much she had hurt him. The pressure of tears began to build up behind her eyes. She willed them not to fall.
“Anyway, I met someone. I wasn’t ready to open my heart up yet, and she wasn’t looking for anything serious, so…well, we agreed to be hook up buddies. No strings attached.”
Hillary was glad someone else was in the picture but couldn’t help feeling like something was about to go terribly wrong in his story.
“It was fun. And, it worked for us. But…well, she told me she was pregnant, and that changed things.”
Her eyes lit up. “You have a baby?” She totally wanted to tell him all about Abigail now.
“A son. He’s about 10 months old.”
“I had a baby too,” she said hesitantly.
He looked surprised. “Life has been crazy for both of us, huh?”
She snorted. “Seriously.”
“So, you had a…”
“A girl. She’s three months.”
“Awww! She’s a brand new little thing. I love that age. They’re still young enough to just poop, eat, and sleep but getting older and forming a personality. My little guy is trying to walk already and is talking our ears off.”
They shared a laugh. It felt good to talk to him normally. The conversation was just as it was on their date: fluid and without pretense. She wasn’t sure if she wanted it, but maybe they could be friends.
“Abigail is definitely showing us her personality already. I think she’s gonna be a ham!”
He chuckled. “Oh no!”
“Yeah. Whenever she’s in the crib and I’m talking to someone else, she just starts babbling. And if someone doesn’t pay her attention soon, then she starts crying.” She rolled her eyes.
He laughed. “Sounds like you have a little diva! I bet she’s so precious though.”
Hillary beamed. “She’s my little sweetheart!”
Jesse’s face went serious. “Can I ask you something?”
She got nervous. “Sure.”
“Is her father around?”
“How are things? I mean…how do you do it with him?”
She took a breath to answer, but those tears she kept at bay were still persistent. She commanded them to maintain their position. “I’m so blessed, Jesse.” Her voice broke. Not crying was going to be hard. “I feel like crying. I’m sorry.” She tried to laugh it off.
“It’s ok. Happy tears are the best.”
She smiled. “Ummm…so yeah, it’s great. If he’s not working or sleeping, he’s at our house with her. I don’t have to ask him for anything.”
He looked discouraged. “Wow. That’s great. I’m glad.” He tried to improve his disposition.
“Things aren’t going well with you and her?”
“Well…it’s not that they aren’t going well, but they’re not getting better. She still doesn’t want a serious relationship, but I think she assumes that I do. I mean, I do, but not with her. I mean, if she ever changed her mind, I’d consider it for my son. I try to be there as much as possible for him, but she won’t let me spend a lot of time there. I think she’s afraid if I’m there too much we might become this loving family or something crazy like that.”
“Will she let you take him?”
“I’m so sorry, Jesse. That’s really awful.”
“I keep trying to talk to her about it because I don’t want to go to court, but I will if I have to.”
“Ugh! That makes me mad. Of all the guys she could have had a baby with, she got one who is actually doing the right thing, and she doesn’t appreciate it!”
He shrugged. “Yeah. It is what it is.”
Hillary remembered something about Jesse that might lighten the damp mood. “Does she at least like chick flicks?”
He laughed. “You remember! Yes, our Netflix and Chill nights are quite awesome.”
“Good. At least she has one thing going for her.”
“Ha! Yeah, right.”
He gazed at her again with a similar look as before. That time she didn’t care to know what went on inside his head. They both had drama in their lives and things they needed to work through. She only hoped that soon he would find what he was looking for…as long as it wasn’t her.
“Hillary, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you again. Maybe when Abigail is big enough, she and Broderick can come here and play together sometime.”
“That sounds nice. I think I’d like that.”