Hello! Before we get started, I want to do my thank yous and shout outs so I won’t break the mood at the end. In case you lost track or forgot, this is the last chapter!
To Cathy, Eddie, and Jamie, you guys are my oldest readers of this story and all my stories! You have been with me since I started this story three and a half years ago and stuck with me through all the hiatuses. Thank you for being stalwart supporters!
To Nya, Jana, Jamie, Cat, and Kymber, thanks for your ears (and eyes)! You ladies have listened to me gush, worry, plot, scheme, complain, and gush some more incessantly! This story would have been much weaker if I didn’t have anyone to talk things through. You read chapters for me when I felt decidedly incapable of making the point, and your feedback was invaluable. Thank you for being trustworthy friends!
To everyone who takes the time to leave a comment, I appreciate you so much! Watching you guys enjoy, get mad, and even express sadness is so rewarding. I love how different you all are, and I love how we can respectfully disagree even more! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me.
To everyone who has ever binged this story, WOW! I have so much respect for you because I am a terrible binger lol. Your diligence is remarkable, and I thank you!
To all the silent readers, you encourage me! It’s pretty cool knowing there are so many more people out there who love this story and enjoyed the journey. Feel free to say hello sometime!
EVERYONE, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
Time in Willow Creek: 4 years, 1 month
Stetson was late as usual. Throughout his and Jase’s friendship, he arrived late to everything. He would be late for his own funeral if it were possible. The wedding was just a formality. Jase didn’t need a best man and fancy party. All he needed was a piece of paper that made Hillary his. The Justice of the Peace could have gotten that, but there was no way he would rob Hillary of her dream.
“Come in,” he said to whoever knocked.
June sauntered in donning a nervous smile. Good thing they looked alike because no one would believe such a glamorous, spicy woman spawned a no frills slug. The thought of having a lot in common with his sperm donor was both intriguing and disturbing. They say women tend to marry men like their fathers. Did it work the opposite way because he was about to marry a glamorous, spicy woman. Oh, that spice… Mr. Templeton is a fool.
“Here. Let me help you.”
She fiddled at his neck like a mother should. Well, like a father should, but that was a thought for another day. Memories of her dressing him like a square as child ran across his mind; he hated those preppy clothes.
“There. You almost had it.” She grinned at him admirably. “You’re so handsome, Jase.”
A year and a half had gone by since the longest three-hour car ride to Brindleton Bay and they were still awkward with each other. The visit to the Huntley Estate was nice. Nicer than he imagined. Too nice, actually. June welcomed the little family with opened arms. When he introduced everyone, she hid a quivering lip and disappointed eyes. The entire weekend, she loved on Abigail like she had years of grandma experience. She doted on Jase as if there weren’t 20 years between them. She complimented Hillary like a good future mother-in-law. Never once did she ask questions. Everyone knew she had them. Even her husband: the one who didn’t want Jase and snatched her away for good. If Jase were petty, he would have told her not to bring that man. Time after time, he tried to strike conversations about the past to mend the fence, but she blocked him.
She shifted and grabbed at her necklace. “Umm—I know this isn’t the best time to bring this up, but I’m ready to talk now.”
Really? An hour before his wedding? Could she ruin his life a second time? The steam from his boiling blood reddened his cheeks. Breathe, Jase. Breathe. The answer was no. She didn’t ruin his life the first time. Growing up in the Humphries house afforded opportunities he never would have had with her. Harriett taught lessons June probably still hadn’t learned.
“I’ve been avoiding your prompts to get me to talk because I’ve been trying to convince myself that you didn’t need to know how I felt because–” her glassy eyes looked like they would break.
“Mom, please. Don’t do this. We can talk tomorrow. Hillary and I aren’t leaving for a while.”
“I’m a grown woman, and I can handle myself,” she said forcefully. “What I wanted to say was I didn’t want to hurt you again!”
That was decent of her, but he didn’t feel any better.
“I know I put you through a lot. I know you have every reason to hate me and pretend I don’t exist. But–” The tears welled up in her eyes again, and his heart felt like it was going to explode. He never liked to see her cry. Taking a few deep breaths, she steadied her emotions. “But, even though I deserve it, I’m hurt, Jase. You had a child, and you couldn’t even send a text?”
No! He couldn’t! His real mother had just died, and the woman who smashed his heart had come back into his life. And she had his baby! He tried to tell her these things last year, but she wouldn’t listen!
“There he is,” Stetson yelled as he burst through the door.
“Oh, sorry, dude. Didn’t know you had company. I’ll just–“
“This is my mom.”
He gasped. “Oh! It’s really good to meet you! I’m Stetson Moyer, the very best best man.”
“It’s good to meet you too, Stetson. I’m June Huntley. Where did you two meet?”
“School. You know, the fat boys gotta to stick together, amiright?”
June’s laugh sounded pained. “You’re funny. I should leave you two. I guess I’ll see you out there.”
Rebecca was on the verge of tears all day, and she hated herself for it. Tears weren’t her thing, but between her beautiful little sister and wishing Mama was around to see her, she barely held it together. Death had a way of putting things into perspective. Rebecca and Harriett didn’t get along, and she often wondered why her mother’s absence still choked her up. It had more to do with the guilt. She could have been kinder. Harriett deserved respect no matter their differences. But, guilt had no place at this happy occasion. Rebecca remembered how the young brat stressed out her mother, and she was so proud to be present on her special day. A disturbing question entered her mind as she zipped Hillary in the dress. If Mama were still alive, would there be a wedding? Would Hillary still be a brat?
The first time Harold met Jase, he was two months old. Harriett was six months pregnant when June dumped him on them. The girl’s husband had ran off, leaving her with no means to take care of the child. Harold always thought it was strange she only sought shelter for the baby. Where did she go? What did she get up to? Something was always fishy with that girl. Although raising someone else’s child was not what he wanted to do, at least the boy had some stability in his life when she left for good.
Jase was already walking when Hillary started taking steps. She’d fall flat on her butt, and his little eyes got as big as quarters. He’d say “Oh no, oh no!” His fat, bowed legs would waddle to her, and he’d try to pick her up. Both of them usually ended up back on the floor. It was the funniest thing. He was just a baby, but did he know how much he loved her way back then?
Despite how he treated her in the past, Harold always looked forward to this day. It’s all he wanted for her. Running a household had a way of taking a silly, young girl and making a woman out of her. Harriett insisted on babying her, but he knew she would be fine after a bit of growing up.
Even though Hillary left home a year and a half ago, giving his baby girl away affected him in a way he didn’t expect. Those two hasty kids did things backward and had a baby before committing to each other. Once the commitment was made, they moved in together. Now they made the commitment official. The life he wanted for her had been in progress for a while, but handing her over to the boy who always loved her—it felt so final. She wasn’t coming back home and would continue to blossom and make him proud.
“Take care of my baby” is what he wanted to say, but Jase had always done that. If he told her he loved her, she would cry like a baby and make a mess of herself. Keeping it together was best for everyone, so he handed her over with a smile and a pat on the hand.
Weddings must trigger the release of some intoxicating chemical in the brain. Something about two young fools getting bound for life was so crazy yet romantic and magical. Those silly thoughts ran around Axel’s head while he watched his baby sister get married with Averie in the periphery. After Jase proposed, everyone kept saying he would be next. They assumed he turned in his player card when he showed up to Sunday dinners with Averie. He never brought women home, so he didn’t blame them for thinking it. But, they got excited about nothing. She was a good friend–and incredible in bed–with no family, and he thought she may enjoy the food and company. Before they met, he reached a point where he had to admit his friendship with Juliana sparked a certain desire. The feeling of opening up to someone he trusted was much more attractive than he cared to admit. He could never have Juliana—and he didn’t want her—but he wanted someone. Not that he would go looking for her, but if such a friendship landed in his lap, he was open to it. So, he met Averie. She was hot, funny, and wild as hell. There was also a sweetness about her. She encouraged him and made him feel like a man instead of pimp. He enjoyed that feeling. Not seeing anyone else wasn’t part of the plan, but it happened that way. So, did he turn in his player card? It looked that way. Well, damn.
Would he entertain marriage now? His mid-forties were just around the corner. Before he knew it, he’d be an old man. Maybe he needed to think differently about it. Maybe. One radical decision at a time.
I know I could just call you, but I actually miss writing letters. I have a lot to process tonight, so writing it out will help.
Hillary got married today! She was so beautiful. Everyone kept commenting on how proud Harriett would be if she were here. It’s true. I still miss her.
I watched my friends get married, and I thought about my own life and what I wanted. My life changed so much over the past two years. Ever since the art gallery opened, life has seemed to shift into high gear. The years are flying by faster than I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve been very busy, but I have a feeling you would say it’s just me getting older. I don’t think 21 is very old, but you might be right.
I moved out and experienced life on my own. I met lots of important people who commissioned me to paint for them, and I made a lot of money. At least it’s a lot of money to me. I started an annual fund-raising event at the library, and the first one was a huge success. I’ve done these big things recently, and I want to keep doing them. They force me to grow. People tell me I live a charmed life. I don’t have a proper job, but I still earn a living. I get to spend my time doing what I love. Through the library, I am making a difference. To top it all off, I am loved deeply by the most wonderful person who gives me the world on a gold platter. I know I am blessed richly. There isn’t a second that goes by I don’t realize it. As beautiful as my life is, I don’t want this to be all there is for me. I know there is more, and I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m ready for it. At least I think I am. I have Kevin to celebrate with when things happen, but I don’t really have Kevin. Not properly. We’ve been dating just about three years now. Every day, I feel myself getting closer to him and never wanting to be apart. For a long time, I was content with us living our own lives separate from each other. I needed that time so I wouldn’t be resentful later. But now, so much of our lives are already so entangled. I’ve made many precious memories, and I’ve got what I needed from my time alone. Kevin has been so patient with me; I’ve kept him waiting long enough. It’s time to discover what else life has waiting for me. I’m scared, I’m excited, but most of all I’m ready for it at last. I know those words are probably music to your ears. Thank you for supporting my decisions especially when you didn’t agree with them. It meant everything to me.
Adrianna will be here in a few weeks, and I cannot wait to see her. I think this is the perfect time for her visit because I have a feeling that my life will change again soon. But, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. First, I need to work up the nerve to tell Kevin how I feel.
You always have such wonderful advice, Mamá. I know you would give it anyway, but this time I am asking. I want to go into this next phase of life with my eyes open because it’s so easy to run away with the romantic thoughts. When I speak to you after you’ve received this letter, will you tell me about life with Papá? I’m afraid I know little about your relationship. I think it will help.
I feel like I’m rambling now, so I guess this is a good place to stop. I love you, Mamá. I can’t tell you enough. I can’t wait to see your face again. Kiss all the children for me and think of me when you pray.
With all my love,