Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 5 months, 3 weeks, 5 days
Abigail was almost three weeks old, and Jase had been with her every single day despite his odd work schedule. He worked on Mondays and Thursdays through Saturday from 2 – 11 p.m. On work days, he stopped by an hour or two before he went to work. On his off days, he came over in the afternoon and spent as much time as both he and Hillary could stand. He had no illusions of the co-parenting thing being easy. Sometimes, they frustrated each other. Other times, the sexual tension between them felt as thick as a sweater. Also, Hillary decided to breastfeed. Between feedings and sleeping 16 – 17 hours a day, Jase spent more time gazing upon his daughter than holding her. It was the nature of things, and he knew that. Sometimes, however, he thought Hillary hogged her. Despite being around a lot, he felt like he missed so much. He wanted to witness every blink, every yawn, every cry and even all the spit up.
One particular off night, Jase had to complete a project before he went to work again, and he didn’t get to Umbrage Manor until almost 9 p.m. When he arrived, Hillary was in the middle of some chores. Abigail was asleep at the time, so he followed Hillary around the house until she completed her work. He knew she took the mantle after Harriett passed and cared for the house and everyone in it, but he had never seen her in action before. As teenagers, he remembered her being so reluctant to do work and help out around the house. This new Hillary looked so natural in that state, like, she was always meant to be in that role. Or, maybe he only saw what he wanted to see. He had a huge blind spot when it came to her.
As he followed her around, he told her about the project that held him up. He knew she had no interest in what he did for a living, but she asked. Hopefully, there would be a time in the future when she would try a video game, watch him play, or at least attempt to understand he didn’t simply play games for a living.
When she finished her chores, she went back to the living room to check on her father. She told Jase about her attempts to get him back into his room, and sure enough, they found him stretched out on the couch snoring like he hadn’t slept in days.
“Daddy…” She went over to him, whispered his name and patted his shoulder. “Daddy…you’re snoring up a storm. Don’t you want to go upstairs?”
“But…I’m sure sleeping on this couch every night is terrible for your back. It’s been a month a half!”
Hillary sighed and looked at Jase hopelessly. He knew there wasn’t anything he could do to help and that Harold wasn’t going to respond well, but he admired her perseverance.
She grabbed his arm and tried to sit him up. “Come on, daddy. I’m not gonna let you keep doing this. Now, get up!”
He yanked his arm back. “No!”
It saddened him to see Harold behaving like a defiant two-year-old. A few tears leaked out of Hillary’s eyes, and Jase feared losing it too.
She wiped her tears and turned out the lights. “Come on, Jase.” Before they went upstairs, she took another look at her father and shook her head. “G’night, daddy.”
Jase heard her sniffling in front of him and wished he could comfort her. Their new normal couldn’t have been easy for her. All at once, she was thrust into positions of responsibility in just about every area of life. For the most part, she handled it quite well. But, any fool could recognize she struggled sometimes. She never complained despite being a notorious complainer. That’s how Jase knew her tears didn’t come from life being hard. She cried because of the pain that still gnawed away at their hearts.
Abigail’s cries echoed in the stairwell as they made their way to the bedroom. Hillary dried her eyes and went into mommy mode like nothing happened. It amazed him how mothers could do that.
“Hey, sweet pea! You’re hungry, aren’t you? Yes you are!”
Hillary fed the desperate infant. Abigail drank for a while, and when she had her fill, Hillary burped her. Jase caught a glimpse her perfect little face while her head rested on Hillary’s shoulder. He knew she didn’t know who he was yet and looked forward to seeing her precious little smile when she did recognize him.
Hillary cooed at her and kissed her face. “You were really hungry, huh? You wanna talk to daddy now? Yeeees, I think you want to talk to daddy.”
Hillary giggled as she put the baby back in the crib. It made him laugh to hear her baby talk voice. She usually wasn’t a silly person.
She turned toward him with a cheeky grin. “The child has an important message for you, daddy.“
“Oh, does she now?”
He knew what the message was. She had used a similar trick on him several times, and he happily fell for it. The teasing tortured and distracted him so much. The way her eyes twinkled and squinted when she smiled; The way her hips swayed when she spoke; Even the way she dressed. She was so alluring…and good with their child just as he thought she would be. She matured so much and behaved responsibly. She was the Hillary he always knew she could be. Could he profess his love for her already so they could be together and end the torture? She had been back in his life for almost six weeks. That was enough time for him to trust her again, right? What else did he want from her?
He was thinking with his loins. He had to stay focused.
Before he could even bend over the crib to pick her up, he could smell the message. “Heeeey, Abbie! Why does your mommy always leave the dirty work to me? Can you ask her that next time?”
“Hey! I feed her from my own body! The least you can do is clean up.” She giggled.
“It’s the least I can do, my love,” he said as he finished up. “We can’t have you being miserable, right?”
He hoisted her in his arms. “Now who’s a happy girl! You’re a happy girl now, right?”
“You love daddy? Daddy loves you too!”
He loved the way she moved, stiff and jerky, almost robotic when they spoke to her. He imagined she could hear a voice but wasn’t clear on where to look or how to react. On the rare occasion he caught her awake, he made sure to give her some tummy time to strengthen the muscles in her neck. Dr. Garrison suggested they did that as much as possible.
“Daddy loves you very very very much! More than video games…and cereal!”
Hillary giggled behind him.
I love you both more than video games and cereal.
Looking at Abigail and thinking about his love for them made him remember something he meant to say to her mother. After a few more cuddles and kisses, Jase put the infant back in the crib and joined Hillary on the bed. She looked overjoyed–almost as if she were in a different world. He couldn’t help but smile with her.
She snapped out of it. “Nothing…. I was just…thinking.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
He couldn’t know exactly what thoughts pleased her so, but he had an idea. She probably had similar thoughts to his own concerning her, and like him, she knew it was best for them to remain in her head. He had been waiting for the right moment say what he needed to say, but the perfect time never came. Either they were too enthralled with the wonderment of their new little life, or tired Hillary seized the opportunity to nap. Having a newborn sucked the life out of them, and neither considered how draining it would be. Sitting there next to her in the silence with her mind elsewhere wasn’t necessarily the right moment, but he had to say it before it became irrelevant.
He cleared his throat. “I need to share something with you…”
He had her full attention.
“I realized something…something about myself when we were in the hospital.”
The smile remained on her face, but she looked curious.
“I can’t keep letting you blame yourself…”
Her shoulders fell, and she shook her head. “Jase…you don’t need to try and one-up me to make me feel better. I know what I did. I own it.”
“But that’s the thing, Hill. You treat me like I’m some little innocent lamb who fell into the lion’s mouth or something.”
She grinned. “You are an innocent lamb.”
Her dazzling smile made it difficult to remain focused. “I’m not. I always pushed myself on you. I tried to make you love me. I shouldn’t have kissed you. I could have…I could have refused you…”
“I’m as guilty as you, ok?”
They sat in silence for a few moments with only their child’s gurgles and coos to entertain them. That could only last but so long before it got awkward and the other thoughts began rolling in.
“How’s Juliana? I don’t see her anymore.”
She sighed. “I don’t know.” She looked disappointed. “I told you mama left her the library, right?”
“Yeah! That’s such a huge responsibility for her. Is she handling it well?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. She’s always been quiet, but she’s even quieter at dinner now. Sometimes she doesn’t even eat with us. And, I hear her crying at night sometimes! I know she misses mama, but I’m not sure that’s what she’s crying about.”
“What about Kevin? Is he still around?”
She snorted. “Is he ever! I swear that man has practically lived here since mama died. Every time I turn around he’s knocking at the door! He needs a key!” Her eyes narrowed, and she seemed to remember something. “Actually…he hasn’t been by in a while…” She tilted her head back as the memories came forward. “He was here when I went into to labor…I haven’t seen him since!” She gasped. “I think I remember hearing them arguing!”
He gasped too. “You think they broke up?”
She laughed. “Well, according to her, they’re not dating, but…whatever.” She shrugged. “We’re not that close anymore. I said some pretty awful things to her on more than one occasion. Turns out I’m not that good at keeping friends.” She laughed nervously.
Despite knowing she was deeply troubled back then, she still tugged on his heart strings. So much happened when he wasn’t around. He knew she deserved everything that came to her and needed to experience those things to bring about the change he saw in her. But, the part of him that still loved her desired a chance to have been there for her. That was the same part wanted to call her every day and make things right between them. But, the hurt part wouldn’t allow it.
Perhaps the part of him that missed the opportunity to make things right could be redeemed by helping her with Juliana. Hillary’s life was taking shape quite nicely. It seemed a shame to not get all of the parts in order.
“You should keep trying to talking to her. Maybe she needs to learn to trust you again too.”
“Yeah…you’re probably right.”