Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 8 months, 3 weeks, 1 day
“At least let me make the tea,” Rebecca pleaded.
Hillary laughed. “It’s already made! I got this, Becca. Just sit there and keep me company.”
Watching her little sister prepare dinner for the entire family was like watching a miracle happen. It wasn’t a big dinner, but Rebecca remembered Hillary’s aversion to the kitchen. At first, she and Harriett thought she wasn’t interested in cooking yet. But later, they realized the girl was just lazy. When she made it to the kitchen, all she prepared was grilled cheese sandwiches. They thought she would never get it together. Rebecca worried about how she would fare on her own, but Hillary surprised them all. Behind the laziness, insecurities, and lack of motivation had been a responsible, mature woman just waiting to be freed. She often wondered how this version of her sister would have come about without the prompting of the unexpected events.
When Hillary told her what she wanted to do, Rebecca felt so much pride. She and Axel were so caught up in their own worlds; the unexpected baby made her realize that. They casually kept in touch with Hillary throughout her life, but neither of them knew her as they should. Now that she had her own life, Hillary expressed concerns about Harold being stuck in the middle of everyone’s busyness. Axel and Rebecca still came by frequently, but things began slipping back to normal and their visits became less frequent. Harold was always so much happier and lively with the family around, and Hillary wanted him to be that way all the time. If she could keep the family together, she could bring her father back to life, she thought. That was how Sunday dinners came about, and everyone–the children, significant others, everyone–was expected to attend.
While Rebecca and Hillary chatted in the kitchen, and Harold enjoyed the company of his grandchildren, Juliana set the table, and Kevin brought all the extra chairs from around the house and placed them in the dining room. Hillary wanted everyone in the same room. No kids table. No sneaking off.
The buzz of chatter and Hillary’s chopping in the kitchen sent Juliana into her own thoughts. Placing the silverware and folding the napkins perfectly made her remember Harriett. She taught her how to properly set the table. Juliana giggled to herself when she remembered how frustrating it was. Whenever she messed up, Harriett would take everything off the table and make her start over.
The meal Hillary prepared was simple and quick, so the food made it to the table in no time, and she called everyone to sit.
“Before we eat, let’s give Hillary a hand for this beautiful meal.”
“Yaaaaay Aunt Hillary,” Mallory yelled while everyone applauded.
“I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that I am proud of the woman you’ve become. Mama would be proud too. And, what you’ve done today, well, you’ve done something she wasn’t able to do.”
Rebecca knew Hillary was attempting to keep the tears from rolling. She didn’t remember her being so sensitive. My how much she’s changed.
“It feels weird to say thank you, but…thanks.” A few rogue tears escaped, and she wiped them quickly. “Ok let’s eat now.”
Everyone served themselves, and the noise level in the room grew tremendously. Everything went smoothly. There was no fighting, no making up excuses for why someone had to leave. Harold was all smiles, and a spirit of joy filled the air. Perhaps Harriett was with them. Rebecca felt confident the afternoon was exactly what Hillary wanted.
Midway into dinner, Abigail made her presence known through the baby monitor. Hillary jumped up to attend to her, but Jase admonished her to remain seated and finish her dinner. Rebecca was impressed and hoped whatever they were working through would be resolved soon. Their relationship was strange. At least, she found it difficult to understand. Hillary was a single mother, but in a way she wasn’t. She was not married to Jase and did not live with him yet he was as involved in Abigail’s life as much as any live-in father, and he took financial responsibility for her. Rebecca remained clueless about the nature of their relationship and what exactly happened with them. Whenever she asked, Hillary gave her a rushed answer and changed the subject. Sometimes she still struggled with the idea of them being together. Jase was always just the boy her mother took care of who was friends with Hillary. Not that she wanted to imagine them being intimate, but she couldn’t see it. He didn’t seem like her type. Maybe that meant this thing–whatever it was–was the real deal.
As people began finishing up, Hillary and Jack started collecting plates to put in the dishwasher.
“Put them plates down and enjoy yourself,” Harold said sternly.
She smirked as she did as she was told. “Ok, daddy.”
“I don’t know ’bout anybody else, but I feel like getting some ice cream or something,” Axel said.
Various forms of agreement scattered across the table.
“I could go for something sweet,” Rebecca said.
While they got their plans together, Juliana grabbed the salad and wrapped it up to store in the fridge.
Kevin followed her into the kitchen. “Hey…are you sure you want to grab dessert with them?”
He had that tone again. What was wrong this time?
“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Well…I just thought we could hang for a bit after dinner.”
“But…I haven’t seen them in a while. It will be nice.”
“I haven’t seen you all week!”
He almost sounded like a whiny child. She wasn’t going to give into that behavior.
“You saw me Wednesday.”
“Ok…but that was like four days ago. I miss you.”
She let out a slow, frustrated breath. His desire to spend time with her wasn’t overlooked. Of course she wanted to hang out with her boyfriend. But, she couldn’t help feeling like he wanted her to choose between him and her family all because of the stupid jealousy. Axel was part of that family, and Kevin needed to get over it, but she wasn’t brave enough to address the issue yet.
“I only have one day off. You have to share.” She smiled and tried to make light of the situation.
He sighed too. More like a low, frustrated growl. “So you’re really not going to hang out with me?”
“You can come too! And we can hang out after.”
“Are you all right?” Axel asked.
His sudden presence startled both of them.
“She’s fine,” Kevin said tersely.
“I’m pretty sure I was talking to Juliana.”
The icy stares between the two men were so intense, she thought they would turn into ice sculptures. It was so cold in there. She felt like she missed something along the way. They had been dating for almost three months. Why did this issue still exist?
“Don’t be coming up in my mama’s house causing trouble.”