Time in Willow Creek: 2 years, 8 months, 4 weeks, 3 days
Ever since Jase declared an official relationship, he spent even more time at Umbrage Manor. He practically lived there. On weekdays, he came in the mornings and took care of Abigail while Hillary made breakfast and did chores. He wasn’t exactly a morning person, so she understood what he sacrificed to be with them. On the nights he didn’t work, he stayed as late as possible and even spent the night a few times. The family vibes were so strong. Having two different addresses was a problem of the past. Hillary lived in a romanticized world where everything was perfect, focusing only on what felt good. Dr. Still tried her darndest to bring Hillary down from the clouds to see more important things. She and Jase intended to be together for the long haul, but she was not prepared for that future, according to the good doctor. They were committed to each other. Whatever happened, they were stuck with each other. While that was a good start, Dr. Still urged her to consider how she will manage the inevitable. She and Jase were perfect for each other, but they were not perfect. Despite how calm and level-headed he always was, he had problems just like she did. And, she was always painfully aware of how different they were. The day would come when she felt like she didn’t know him at all, or maybe she would feel like they made a mistake and were too different to make it work. Her future responses to these situations depended on observations made and discussions that took place in the present.
Saturday night, after dinner, Hillary bathed Abigail and put on her pajamas to make bedtime easier for Harold. He was on babysitting duty while she and Jase went out. With all the children and grandchildren he had, his experience with taking care of children should have been comforting, but he wasn’t exactly a hands-on parent. Leaving her baby with him gave her pause, but she needed to trust that he was capable. This arrangement had to work if only for selfish reasons. She and Jase could stay out for as long as they wanted–within reason, of course. Abigail could sleep comfortably in her own bed and stay in a familiar environment. Harold wouldn’t wait up, so the pressure to rush back home was lessened. Though everyone else would love to watch her, it would change things.
Departure time had come, and the two men stood on the porch watching Hillary attempt to say goodnight to her little sweet pea. She held the baby close to her chest and breathed in the lavender scent from the bubble bath lingering on her soft skin. “You gonna have fun with Pop Pop?”
Abigail turned to Harold and pointed with the sweetest smile. “Pop Pop!”
Pressure built up behind Hillary’s eyes. Her precious little girl was so smart and adorable and funny, and she wanted to be with her every second of every day despite how unsustainable and selfish it was. Harold took the baby from her. He must have known how hard it was to hand her over. “Heeeey, Boop Boop. Say, bye bye, mama.”
“Ba ba ma ma!”
She and Jase laughed, and the pressure behind her eyes was almost too much to bear. She bent over kissed her cheek. “Goodnight, sweet pea. I love you.”
“Hill,” Jase beckoned. He knew if she didn’t tear herself away, they wouldn’t leave. “Goodnight, Mr. Humphries. Nite nite, Abbie!”
She waved to Abigail. “Goodnight, daddy.”
When they walked away, Abigail cried. She almost turned around, but Jase called her name again. “She’ll be fine.”
The taxi had been waiting. Jase opened the door and ushered her in. “She’s always fine after you leave.”
“I know.” A few tears leaked out. Good thing it was a casual night. “She’s almost a year and a half! Why is it still so hard?”
“I know.” He draped his arm around her shoulder and kissed her cheek. He was the sweetest man she had ever known. Whenever she thought about her old life, it was hard to not get angry, wishing that things would have turned out differently. A life with Jase could have been her reality all along, but she spent so much time running from him.
Arriving at their destination increased her mood a million times, and those self-depreciating thoughts disappeared quickly. As a little girl, certain movie scenes shaped the way she saw her life in the future. Young Hillary anticipated sunshine and rainbows, huge romantic gestures, cheesy professions of love, and all the cliche fantasies little girls want. But, that little girl grew up and experienced much pain and heartbreak. She eventually saw the fantasies for what they were and let them go. Except for one. Many of those fantasies seemed to take place in beautiful parks where the scenery and ambiance added to the romance. It was a simple dream but practical. She usually wasn’t one for hanging out in nature, but she made exceptions. All her life, she wanted to visit a beautiful park and walk around holding hands with a gorgeous man just like in the movies. The real-life scene didn’t mirror the movies, but what played out was just as beautiful. Central Park Myshuno had always been the designated dream park, and she avoided it to keep it sacred. Only one person would be allowed to take her, and that person was now Jase.
The air was warm. Too warm for that time of year but perfect for a stroll in a beautiful park with the sweetest man on earth. Downtown was the perfect backdrop and provided an extra layer of magic with the sounds of traffic in the distance and twinkling lights all around them. It was easy to see how Juliana became so enamored with this place. It had an attractive energy that didn’t exist anywhere else.
A huge fountain met them at the entrance. It was more like a shallow pool with water features and lights. Whatever it was, it made her speechless. The night had only begun, but the wait had already proved its worth.
Jase must have noticed her gawking at the fountain and marked silence. “Are you ok?”
He had his arm around her. The lights, the soothing sounds of falling water, the flowers, all of it added to the ambiance just like the movies. She felt more in love than ever before.
“This park… It’s so beautiful, and…everything is just so perfect right now.”
“I’m glad that you’re happy.”
They stopped and watch the majestic fountain for a few moments. She could have watched it all night. As much as she wanted to stay in that space and let the fountain cast a spell on her, she couldn’t help but notice Jase wasn’t as happy. He seemed mildly distracted.
He pulled in a breath and let it go. “I think it’s time to talk to my mom.”
“Oh, Jase. That’s so good.” She welcomed the unexpected change of pace for he rarely spoke of his own problems. Her experience with counseling taught her to talk things out, and she was glad he wanted to do that with her.
He smiled painfully. “Yeah. It’s past time.”
Hillary said goodbye to the fountain as they began their journey through the grand park while Jase continued his story. “It’s been on my mind for a while. I don’t really have a reason to stay mad. It’s exhausting. I just need to forgive her and move on, you know?”
“Even though she hurt me over and over, I can’t help but think about how hurt she’s going to be when she finds out about you and Abbie and the house and everything. And, the longer I wait, the worse she’s going to feel.”
The soothing sound of falling water was just a soft trickle now that they were further away.
“I wish I didn’t care so much.”
“Don’t say that, Jase. You wouldn’t be you if you didn’t care. It’s the best part of you.”
He squeezed her a little tighter.
“So, what are you going to do?”
“Well…I suppose I should take you and Abbie to meet her. Maybe next weekend?”
“Of course. Where does she live now?”
“Brindleton Bay. I’ll have to rent a car.”
Abigail had never been in a car seat for longer than 30 minutes. How would she do for a few hours? Hillary hadn’t been on a road trip in a while, actually. That part excited her, but the rest of it was uncertain. Despite knowing about his mother, she never considered that she would have a mother-in-law one day. Abigail had a grandmother! Having a significant other added so many new elements to her life. It was then she realized why Dr. Still wanted to keep her head out of the clouds. This was real life with real problems and real challenges to tackle every moment of every day. Ice cream was delicious and provided a temporary respite, but it wouldn’t fix everything.
When they were children, she saw June Templeton when she would come by to collect Jase, but she didn’t know the woman. She barely remembered what she looked like. “I think it’ll be nice. Are you nervous?”
He shrugged. “I’ll talk myself out of it if I think about it too much. She’ll probably want us to stay the weekend, but even if she doesn’t, we could stay and check out Brindleton Bay.”
She nodded. “I’ll tell Rebecca she’s on dinner duty for Sunday.” He seemed like he wanted to be done with the conversation, and she had a burning question. The transition was perfect. “So…did you talk to daddy?”
He smirked. “Yes.”
She shoved him playfully. “Well, what did he say?”
“He said, and I quote, ‘you gon marry her?’ End quote.”
She doubled over with laughter at his horrible interpretation of her father.
“So, of course, I said yes, eventually. Then, he said, ‘it’s bout time you growed up. Be a man.'”
Her mouth flew open. “He really said that?”
“He did. I didn’t know how to feel about that, but I suppose he’s right.”
“So, he’s ok with it?”
He grinned. “He is.”
That was excellent news, but it seemed too easy. Maybe he didn’t understand him. “Did it sound like he wanted us to get married and then move in together?” She didn’t mean to plant seeds of doubt, but she wanted to be sure they understood what was said.
His face dropped. “No. Not really. You know him better. Do you think he meant it like that?”
“I wasn’t there! You tell me.”
He chuckled. “I think he made it pretty clear that as long as I intend to marry you, he doesn’t care. I guess he wants to make sure you won’t be coming back.”
Maybe Rebecca was right. Daddy wanted her to leave. She always dreamed of meeting a man and leaving home. Turns out she already knew the man, and now it was time to leave. She almost couldn’t believe her life. For so long, all of these things seemed so out of reach, and now they were her reality.
“Are you crying again?”
She quickly wiped a rogue tear. “No!” Ever since becoming a mother, she had been so emotional!
“Come on…what is it, Hill?”
She couldn’t look at his sweet smiling face anymore or she would break down. “It’s just that…are we really having marriage discussions?”
He put his arm around her waist and pulled her closer. “You know I want to marry you. You’re the only person I’ve ever wanted to marry.”
She knew that but hearing him say it now that her feelings were mutual… Gosh, if she could barely keep it together with a simple profession of love, what the heck would she do when he proposed properly?
“I want to marry you too.”
“Let’s go. I want to show you the house.”
She gasped. All week, she tried and succeeded at not overwhelming him with her excitement. She had been dying to see the house but knew he’d invite her when he was ready for her to see it.
“The furniture came yesterday.”
Until the marriage discussion, it was Jase’s new house, and she was excited for him. But, it wasn’t Jase’s house; it was theirs. She got excited about their future all over again.
The cute, green house sat on a corner lot surrounded by larger homes like the runt of the litter. She was taken by the house immediately. It was so perfect and so them. It even had a white picket fence. Mama would be so proud. Was this really happening? How did they get to that point so fast? So many moments within the past two years reminded her that she was no longer a child, but standing in front of her future home she knew it for certain. For once, she was proud of herself.
“I’m glad the previous owner was a gardener,” he said as they walked up the stairs. “Landscaping can be really expensive.”
Walking into their house for the first time reminded her of those old movies she watched with daddy. Back in the day, it seemed the man did all the work of finding a home and furnishing it. He’d marry a woman and bring her to their new home for the first time after the wedding. That’s what walking in behind Jase felt like.
“It’s not much to look at now, but I’m sure once you’re done with it, it’ll be amazing.”
This was too much. Too many of her dreams came true too close together. It was epic.
He showed her the room to their right. “My office.”
It was a good size for his geek grotto. He could have it. As for the rest of the house, she had plans already.
He gestured toward the kitchen across the hall. “I need to sell the fridge and stove so I can move mine in. I paid too much money for them to leave behind.”
“Seriously. Yours are so fancy.” And now they would be hers! The kitchen was small but no smaller than her current kitchen. It would do.
“Do you like it?”
It wasn’t the style she would choose, but it was their first house. Nothing would be exactly how they wanted. Besides, it didn’t feel like the time to be nitpicky. “I mean…there’s enough space.”
“I don’t like it. The tile doesn’t work for me. And the cabinets…they’re so basic. It reminds me of how my kitchen used to look.”
“Oh right!” She forgot he had his old kitchen redone when he bought the house from his mother. “In that case, I hate it.”
He took her hands. “Hill, this is your house too, you know. You can change whatever you want.”
She smiled, nodded, and continued with the tour. It was so overwhelming.
The dining area was right next to the kitchen. He already bought a high chair for Abigail that matched the rest of the furniture. Gosh, he was so sweet and considerate! There was a small bathroom downstairs across from the kitchen. The living room was the perfect size for their current family plus one be it a guest or another child. She could tell he went to one of those buy-a-whole-room stores. He was not a talented decorator like she was and would never be able to put that room together like that.
“You’re gonna love the backyard,” he said halfway giddy. “They left all their stuff here! Even the kids’ stuff.”
The yard was even more perfect than the house. It begged her to spend time outside and planted sweet dreams in her head. She imagined watching Abigail running around so happy and carefree while sitting under the umbrella with a refreshing glass of lemonade in her hand. Her family could come over, and Jase could put some dogs on the grill. Maybe the kids would have a water balloon fight. Maybe they would get a blanket, and she and Jase would lay under the stars. Did she have a green thumb like her mother? She had plenty of space to try gardening if she wanted to. The backyard provided so many opportunities for new experiences. It over whelmed her.
The upstairs hallway was terribly cramped, especially with the washer and dryer there, but it was ok. Surely it would lead to many annoying mishaps they would laugh about when they were old and gray.
The first room off the stair landing was the second bedroom, and man oh man did it need painting! Whoever thought that bright yellow in a bedroom would be a good idea needed to have their head examined.
“What do you think?” he asked. “We could make it a guest room…or use it for storage until we figure it out.”
“Whatever we do, this room is getting painted ASAP!”
“I know, it’s terrible.”
“I was thinking when Abbie gets too big for her room, she could move in here.”
“Is her room really small?”
“Yeah, but it’s so perfect for her right now.” He led her a couple of steps down the hall. “Isn’t it cute?”
Someone had drawn on the walls. Hopefully Abigail wouldn’t get any ideas. It had a certain charm to it, though. The drawings wouldn’t go with her current decor, but creating a new theme would be fun. Besides, Abigail’s furniture needed to remain at Umbrage Manor for when she visited. Maybe she could do an animal theme to tie in the wall art.
The upstairs bathroom looked exactly like the downstairs one but only slightly bigger to accommodate the tub. The master bedroom was small and nondescript like the rest of the house, but not for long. She couldn’t wait to make this place her own.
“So…what do you think?”
She smiled warmly. “I can’t believe we have a house! It’s perfect.”
He looked so pleased by her approval. “We should celebrate. I bought ice cream.”
She giggled and caught herself too late.
“What’s so funny?”
He cocked his head at her.
“It’s a story for another time.” She grabbed his hands. “I’ll take a raincheck on the ice cream.”
“But, it’s butter pecan.”
“I don’t want ice cream. I want you.” She grinned coyly. “So, are you gonna come over here or what?”