A Changed Lock Chapters 25-27

Fiction By Damaris Ann // 3/18/2018

CHAPTER 25: TRIPPIN' IT

It was Wednesday night before Jules knew it, and she was packing up a few last minute things. She stuffed her toothbrush into a plastic bag, then pulled it back out and set it next to the sink. "I'll need that in the morning. What can I pack now?" She tapped her pajama leg with her finger tips. After a few minutes, she stuffed her blow dryer and bottle of mousse into a bag. "I guess that's it. I need sleep."
She crawled into her bed, being careful not to wake up Greta, who was already asleep. Jules set her alarm for 4:30am and tucked her hands up under her pillow. She let out a long breath and stared off into the darkness. She was wide awake, anticipating her visit with Arabella. The closer it got to time for her to leave, the more nervous she got. What would she say to her? How would she feel? Would they get along alright? Jules fell asleep and dreamed that her birth mom turned out to be just like Grace. She woke up with a smile when her alarm went off.
"Greta, hey, Greta, it's time to get up and load the car."
"Ugh. Whose idea was it to get up so stinkin' early?"
"Umm, it was mutual. Up, lazy bones." Jules hopped out of bed and rushed into her clothes. She ran around like a puppy on espresso shots, and had her luggage loaded into the trunk of Greta's car in no time.
"Are you ready yet?"
"Almost. I'm not a morning person. Can you make coffee?"
"Sure, if it'll make you move faster." She playfully shoved Greta in the shoulder.
"Sure." She rolled her eyes. "Coffee always makes me faster."
"Good." Jules went back downstairs and set a pot of coffee going. She leaned up against the counter and watched the pink and yellow light slowly spread across the sky through her window. It was going to be an amazing day.
Soon they were loaded up and rolling down the road. Jules drove first, and Greta stared grumpily out the window until she had finished her cup of coffee. After that she smiled reluctantly and turned the radio up. For a few hours they enjoyed the music and scenery. The sky was peppered with feathery white clouds, and rays of pink and orange blazed across the horizon.
"Jules!"
"What?!"
"We're trippin' it. We're actually trippin' it!!"
"Woo!! We've wanted to go on a road trip together ever since we were super young."
"Why did it take us this long to do it?"
"I don't know... but I'm sure glad we're doing it now. You're the best road-tripping buddy ever."
"Don't lie. You heard me snapping and grumbling this morning."
"Okay, you're the best road-tripping buddy ever as long as it's not morning."
"Better. Much better. Can we stop at that donut shop up ahead?"
"Sure, but I thought you were on a diet."
"I was on a diet until my bestie invited me on a road trip. It's cheat week, baby!! Bring on the sugar and carbs!"
"You're officially crazy." Jules put the car in park and took off her seatbelt.
"Tell me something I don't know, Hon."
They walked inside the little shop and sniffed appreciatively. The air smelled sugary and warm.
"Let's just get an assorted half dozen and split it, Jules."
"That sounds good. I want strawberry milk, too. Would you mind ordering? Here's some cash," she stuffed a few bills into Greta's hand. "I've got to use the restroom."

***

It was pitch black outside when the girls pulled up to their hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. They carried their suitcases into their room, and Jules plopped down onto the edge of her bed. They both pulled out their phones and started letting people know that they arrived safely.
"Should I let Miles know?"
"Yeah, that might be good. I texted Charlie."
Jules gave her a look.
"What?" Greta flopped over into her own bed. "He asked me to let him know when we got here. That's no weirder than you texting Miles."
"I know, I'm just playing with you."
Her tired fingers fumbled with the phone. She gasped. "No, no, no! I didn't want to call!" She frantically tried to hit the "end" button, but before she could, Miles picked up. She looked as sheepish as she felt, and Greta's laughter from across the room wasn't helping.
"Jules?"
"Hey, Miles. I'm so sorry, I was trying to send a text and I accidentally called you. I hope I didn't wake you up..."
"Hey, it's no problem. I've been sitting up on the front porch. Besides, it's only 7:00 here. Did you make it up there safely?"
"Yep! Made it all in one piece, but we're both kinda tired."
"I bet. Well, I hope you get some good rest tonight."
"Thanks. I'll let you know how it goes with Arabella tomorrow."
"Sounds good. Take lots of pictures of your trip and show them to me when you get back home."
"I will. Goodnight, Miles."
"Goodnight. I'm glad you made it there safely, Jules."
"Thank you. Goodbye."
"'Bye."
She hung up and grinned over at Greta. "Oops."
"Are you totally sure that was an accident?" Greta yawned. "'Cause you sure looked happy when he picked up."
"Uh, try panicked and you'll be closer to the truth." She launched a pillow at Greta's face. "I'm putting on my pajamas now." She dodged a pillow and ducked into the bathroom, shutting the door safely behind her.
"Hey!" Greta yelled after her. "What time are we meeting Arabella tomorrow?"
"9:30." Jules walked back into the room and sat on the edge of her bed. She ran a brush through her hair and then flopped over onto her back, pulling her pink tee shirt down over her gray pants. "I'm exhausted. Let's order a pizza. Does that sound good?"
Greta walked back out of the bathroom with her own brush in hand. Her black and gray plaid pajamas made her hair look even darker. "Oh yeah. Do it."

***

Jules alarm went off at 8:00. Greta moaned. She crawled over to Jules' bed and pulled all of the covers off. "Wake up, it's your alarm."
"Ugh. I'm coming."
"What happened to Miss Sunshine and Roses Morning Princess? Do I detect a frown? Hmm?" Greta threw a pillow at Jules's face and started laughing, running to duck behind her own bed.
"Where's Greta, and what did you do with her? You're actually laughing in the morning. A miracle has occurred."
They both sunk down into one of the beds, giggling incessantly.
"I guess we should go down for breakfast."
"After we get dressed."
"Good point."
Before too long they were both clothed and in their right minds (though that last part is debatable), and were seated at a table with their breakfasts. "I forgot how gross and yet how incredibly delicious hotel food is."
Jules grinned. "I think it's the sense of adventure that makes it taste so good."
"I think you're right." Greta stood up to retrieve a plastic spoon. "Can't eat without it," she giggled. "Sorry, I'm being a moron."
"Naw, you're being fun."
"Ah, so that's what that feels like."
Jules rolled her eyes. "You're so cool. Oh shoot, we need to leave in, like, fifteen minutes."
"Oh, okay." Greta grimaced. "Let me just choke down the rest of my oatmeal real quick."
"Good thing we already loaded up the car."
"Yep. You ready?"
"Mhm. Ready as I'll ever be. Actually, I'm a bit nervous."
"It'll be good, Jules. It'll give you some closure, and I'm sure you'll look back and be thankful that you chose to meet her today."
"Thanks. I guess you're right. You wanna drive?"
"Duh. I'm not getting in that car with you driving while you're so distracted."
Jules laughed and punched Greta in the shoulder. "You're so funny."
"That's why you love me."
"Among many other, and better, reasons."
They drove fifteen minutes to the Starbucks Arabella had asked to meet at. Once Greta had parked, she turned to Jules. "Ready?"
"No, honestly, I'm not. I don't know if I can do this."
"Hey. Where is that sweet, confidant, selfless girl I've always loved and respected? Jules, growing up you were fearless. You were always the first one to make friends with the new kids at church. You made everyone feel so at home and at ease with you, and you still do!" Greta reached out and rubbed Jules's shoulder. "Hon, your birth mother is sitting inside, asking herself if you'll even show up. She's telling herself that she would deserve it if you didn't. So go; be yourself, and help her feel comfortable and at home with you, just like everyone else you know already does."
Jules reached across and wrapped her friend in a tight hug. "Thank you. You always know just what to say to encourage me."
"Any time. Now let's go inside."
Jules pulled her seatbelt off and stepped out of the car. She smoothed her shirt and pasted on a warm smile while trying to ignore the tornado inside her stomach. Greta held the door open for her, and she walked inside. After glancing around the shop, her eyes fell on a middle-aged woman with thick, curly hair and warm brown eyes. The woman looked up and caught her glance with a nervous smile. She stood up.
"Jules?"
"Yes, I'm Jules. You must be Arabella." She offered her hand. "This is my best friend, Greta."
"It's nice to meet you. Would either of you like to order anything? It's on me today."
Jules stared at the menu for a moment. "I think I'd like to try their Vanilla Bean Creme."
"And I'd like a Dirty Chai."
"Great! I'll be right back."
The girls slid into one side of the booth. "She seems okay," Greta whispered.
"Yeah, so far so good. I just wish the urge to vomit would go away."
"TMI, Jules." Greta laughed.
"Sorry, I'm back now." Arabella sat down. "So, how was your drive up here?"
"It was great." Jules smiled. "Thanks for asking."
"Mm," Arabella nodded and smiled. A barista brought their drinks over, and then an awkward silence ensued for several moments.
"Jules, I just wanted to say that I am so, so sorry for not being a mother to you. I--I wasn't ready. I was on a bad path, and I desperately needed help. I'm not trying to make excuses; I know I've done a lot of bad things in my life, and made a lot of mistakes. I just want you to know that I'm sorry."
"I--thank you. That means a lot to me. I didn't ask to meet so you could apologize. I really just wanted to know you. And I wanted to ask, did you get help?"
Arabella smiled with relief. The nervousness was melting away, and she had a beautiful, motherly face. "Yes, I did. In unexpected places."
"How do you mean?"
"I found God. Or rather, God found me."
"Oh, Arabella." There were tears in Jules eyes. She stood up and walked around the table, catching Arabella off-guard with a warm hug. "You have no idea how happy that makes me feel. Ever since I can remember I have prayed that you would come to know the Lord. God is so good."
"Yes, He is."
Arabella shared her testimony with the girls, and each of them were unashamed by the tears they shed. It was nearly 11:00 by the time the girls stood up to leave.
"We have to get to our hotel in Grand Canyon Village by 3:00 for check-in," Greta explained. "Otherwise I know Jules would like to stay longer."
"I wish I had left today's check-in a little more flexible." Jules smiled. "Can we get a picture together before we go?"
"Of course!"
They took several pictures, and then Jules wrapped Arabella in a warm hug. "I'm so, so glad we met. I love you."
"Oh," Arabella gasped. "I love you, too. Come and see me again sometime."
"I will."

CHAPTER 26: NEW FACES AND OLD

Greta climbed out of the car and stretched. "We're here! And just look at that view! It's gorgeous out here. Pun intended."
"Very funny. Let's hurry up and check in so we can head to the Canyon."
Greta popped the trunk and started pulling luggage out. "You don't have to say it twice. You have the check-in information, right?"
"Yeah, I think I'll go in ahead of you and get our keys." Jules took her suitcase and backpack and headed inside while Greta moved the car. She stepped up to the front desk. "Hello, I have a reservation under Jules Keith."
After she got her room key, she stepped over to the lobby to wait for Greta. A young man with curly black hair and dark eyes stood up off of one of the leather sofas and walked over to her.
"Hello." He smiled down at her. "Did you just get here?"
Jules looked pointedly at the luggage in her hand. "Umm, yes. I did."
"Cool. Will you be here for very long?"
"A day or two." Jules smiled cautiously.
"Oh good. I will, too. I'm Tony," he held out his hand, and Jules shook it. "What's your name?"
"I'm Jules. My friend is here, so I have to go."
"Oh, that's too bad. I'll see you soon." And he walked away.
"What on earth was that?"
"Oh boy. I don't know, Greta. Some random guy just walked up and talked to me. Here," she handed her a key. "Our room number is 219. Let's hurry! I need to switch to my hiking boots and jeans."
"Same."
After fifteen minutes of rushing around and making a mess of their clean room, they headed out the door again. It was a matter of minutes before they pulled up to the national park. They bought their day passes and then headed out down one of the pathways.
"Grand Canyon, here we come!"
Jules giggled. "This is so surreal. I've always wanted to come here."
"Same, Girl. Hey, isn't that the weird dude from the hotel? He's waving at you over there." Greta nodded off to the other side of a small crowd of tourists.
"Oh shoot. Yeah, that's him. Quick, let's walk over there." They headed in an opposite direction and took some pictures. They leaned up against a rail, enjoying the view. The red stone and blue horizon held them spellbound for several minutes. The breeze was gentle and cool, and there were so many angles to admire the landscape from. Suddenly, they felt somebody squeeze between them with an arm over each of their shoulders.
"There you girls are! I've been looking all over for y'all." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "There's a creepy guy behind me who's been watching you ever since you got here, and he just started walking this way. Follow me." She turned and started walking down a trail towards a large group of tourists. Both girls followed her, glancing around cautiously. Once they were out of sight of Tony, the girl turned towards them. "Sorry about that, it just seemed like the best way to get you away from that guy. You sh--"
"Anne?! I can't believe it!"
"What? Oh my word, Greta and Jules?" They all excitedly hugged each other. "What are you girls doing up here?"
"We came to meet Jules' mom."
"Wait, your mom lives here?"
"In Phoenix," Jules said. "We met her this morning. When did you move up here?"
"Two years ago. I moved up here with my great-aunt. Remember? When I left Hamilton in the first place it was because she wanted me to live with her."
"But I thought y'all had moved to Oregon."
"We did," Anne grinned. "Then we moved to Chicago, then Florida, and then here. You know my aunt had the heart of a gypsy."
"Where is she now?"
"She died six months ago."
"I'm so sorry," Greta pulled her in for another hug. "Why didn't you move back to Hamilton?"
"I thought about it, but I hadn't kept in touch with any of y'all, and wasn't even sure if you would still be there."
"Jules left for a while, about a year after you left, but she moved back a couple of months ago. We're all still there."
"Even Martin?" Anne gave Jules a sly look.
Jules blushed. "Well, he still lives in the area. I haven't seen him in a few weeks, though." She twisted her camera strap around her fingers and stared off into space.
"Oh." Anne looked back and forth between Greta and Jules. "Did something happen?"
"Jules?" Greta squeezed her shoulder. "Do you wanna tell her?"
"Sure." She sighed. "Martin... well, he has a lot of growing up to do."
"What happened?"
"He took me to a park for a walk and then tried to kiss me."
"That dirt-faced jerk."
"Right?" Greta was grinning a little. "That's exactly what he is. So Miles told him to stay away from Jules for a while. He hasn't shown up at church since then."
"Hold up, who's Miles?" Anne pulled her blonde hair into a ponytail and leaned against the rail next to where Jules was standing.
"Oh Anne, there is so much to tell you."
"Greta is going to make it sound like I have a crush on Miles. Just keep in mind that there's also a guy named Charlie in the scenario..."
"Jules."
"Hmm? I don't care if you tell Anne about how amazing Miles is as long as you don't leave Charlie out of it." She giggled.
"Okay, fair point. Let's walk and talk, Anne."
They explored a few different trails while catching Anne up on the events of the last several months. Once it was almost dark, they stopped at a small café and got burgers for dinner. They were almost finished eating when Jules noticed that Greta looked really pale.
"You okay, girl?"
"I think I need to go to the bathroom." Greta went out of the room, and then came back looking even more pale, and a little dizzy. "I just threw up," she announced. "I think we should go back to the hotel."
"Oh my word! I'm so sorry, Greta. I'll drive you back right away. I guess we'll see you later, Anne?"
"Oh yeah. If not here, I'll see you back in Hamilton. Soon." She gave Jules a big hug. "Feel better soon, Greta."
Jules drove back to their hotel. Once they were inside the room, Greta sunk down into her bed. "I think maybe I got sun poisoning. I've always been super sensitive to sunshine. Ugh..."
"I'm so sorry, girl." Jules sat down next to Greta and gave her a back rub. "Do you think a long bath would help?"
"Maybe so. And then I'm going to bed."
"Okay. Let me know if you need anything."
Greta gathered some things from her suitcase and shut herself in the bathroom. Jules pulled her journal out of her backpack and sat down on her bed to write.
"The sun stood above the ridges like a cornet, billowing its plumage in shades of red and gold. Perky fingertips of light poked their way into the vast regime of dusky rock below. The canyons gaped in their blue, misty finery, refusing to be wholly illuminated. she threw her pen down suddenly and jumped up off the bed. "Greta!" She shouted through the door.
Greta moaned. "What's wrong?"
"I left my camera in the café. I have to go get it."
"Drive carefully. I can't go with you."
"Okay. If I'm not back in thirty minutes call the cops, okay?"
"Will do."
Jules dashed down the hall and out the door to the parking lot. She climbed into Greta's car and headed down the road. She took a different route, thinking it might be faster. "Dear Lord, please keep me safe on my way back to the hotel."
Jules was in deep thought about safety; thinking over the events of the day. She couldn't shake off the nervous feeling that someone was watching her. She'd felt it all day. Her thoughts were interrupted by a mile marker.
"Oh, rats. I missed my turn a ways back."
She turned around at a gas station. A few miles down the road she saw bright orange construction signs reflected in her headlights.
"Detour?! This is not my night."
She swerved to avoid a furry mammal, and then hit her breaks.
"Another detour... I am soooo lost."
Suddenly her engine spluttered, and then stopped. "Oh my goodness. Lost, in the middle of nowhere, and out of gas. I hope Greta keeps a fuel container in here. Please, God."
Jules walked around to the trunk of the car and popped it open. Nothing. She saw headlights reflect on her bracelet and glanced behind her. Her heart sunk. It was Tony. She frantically pulled out her phone and hit her most recent contact.
"Hello?"
"Miles!!! I thought you were Greta but this creep has been following me all day, and I just ran out of gas in the middle of nowhere!"
"Jules, take a deep breath. What's going on?"
"I was seeing if there is a fuel jug but this guy just pulled up! Pray for me!"
Now Miles was frantic. He thought Jules could surely hear his heart pounding over the phone, but there was no time to worry about that. His voice thickened. "Don't get out of the car, Jules!!"
"I AM out!!!!"
His face blanched, and he held his phone with a death grip. Jules wished he could be there to protect her. "Oh dear God, please protect Jules, and keep her safe--"
She dropped her phone into her trunk and turned around to confront Tony. Tony walked up to her, and stopped a little too close for comfort. His eyes peered down at her, and she was less intimidated than she anticipated being.
"Something wrong, Jules?"
"Nothing I can't handle, thanks."
Her reply was curt. She meant it as a warning, but he didn't take it as such.
"Are you out of fuel? I have some in my trunk. Here, I'll get it." He moved over to his trunk and retrieved the can, placidly pouring the fuel into her tank. "Hopefully that's enough to get you back to the hotel. Have a nice night!" He got back in his car and drove away.
Jules stood still and stared after his receding taillights. "What in the name of all that makes sense was that?" She shook her head and slammed the trunk shut before slowly climbing behind the wheel.
It was very late by the time Jules pulled up to the hotel. Greta looked up from where she was curled up on her bed. "What took you so long? Did you get the camera? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I got the camera. One of the waiters put it in lost and found. I ran out of fuel, but someone showed up with a gas can and helped me out. It was that g--oh SHOOT I left Miles in the trunk!" She ran out the door and dashed frantically down the hallway.
"You what?! Ugh, never mind. I can't process this right now." Greta moaned and rolled over, pulling the sheets up over her head.
Jules snatched up her phone out of the trunk. "Seven missed calls from Miles! I'm such an idiot. She dialed his number while she walked back to her room. She breathed in deeply before putting the phone up to her ear.
"Jules! Thank God. Are you hurt?"
"No, I'm safe and sound. I didn't wake you up, did I?"
"No, I'm up. There was no way I could sleep; I was so worried. I've been sitting on the porch."
"Okay, good. I'm thinking from now on I won't go anywhere at all by myself." She let out a nervous laugh. "I was pretty scared for a minute there, Miles."
"I'm just glad you're okay. What happened? I've been so worried."
"So... about that. The guy just pulled out a spare gas can and poured it into my tank, said he hoped it'd be enough and just drove away. I mean what are the odds?"
"But you're sure you're okay? It freaked me out when I heard a crash right before the line went dead."
Jules laughed hysterically for a few minutes. After she had stopped, she drew in a deep breath. "Sorry, yes, I'm sure I'm okay. I literally threw my phone into the trunk when Tony walked up. I swear, I need a new brain."
"Tony?"
"The guy who gave me fuel. He stays at the same hotel as Greta and me, and is really odd. He's a bit of a creep, honestly, and that's why I was so scared when he pulled up."
"I see." Miles was quiet. Jules didn't know what to say.
"So... you're sure you're perfectly safe? How can I be sure you haven't been kidnapped?"
"Miles, seriously. I'm safe. Here, Greta can confirm." Jules walked into the hotel room and put the phone on speaker. "Tell Miles I'm safe, Greta."
"Jules is perfectly safe, as well as being a complete and total idiot."
Miles laughed. "Okay, I believe you."
Jules flopped over on her bed and laughed until she cried, and her crying escalated to wrenching sobs. Greta sat down next to her and rubbed her back.
Miles voice came through the line, comforting and soothing her. "Sh sh shh, it's okay. You're okay. Thank God you're okay." He hoped she couldn't tell that he had teared up.
Jules wiped her eyes and sat up. "Thank you, Miles. I'm just super tired and a little high-strung. I feel silly for being so emotional."
"Don't feel silly. Crying is a good stress reliever."
"You are a good stress reliever."
He smiled into the phone, his fingers curling protectively around it. "Well, I don't know about that... Hey, you should get some rest."
"You're right. I'm sorry for calling you so late."
"Don't be sorry. I was pretty worried about you, so I'm glad you called."
"Okay. Goodnight, Miles."
"Goodnight Jules."

CHAPTER 27: A LOVELY MORNING

Miles slipped the phone back into his pocket, then let his fingers dangle between his knees. He let out a deep sigh. Angus walked out and sat down on the porch step next to him, and put his arm across his grandson's shoulder. "How is she?"
"Thank God, she's okay."
"Praise the Lord. I'm so glad."
"Me too, Gramps; me too."
"Are you coming in soon?"
"I think I wanna pray for a little while before I come in. That is, if you're okay with that."
"That's fine. I'm sure you have plenty on your mind right now."
"Thanks for understanding, Gramps."
"Of course. I'm just curious, though..."
"Yes?" Miles prompted.
"You always talk about how beautiful Jules' character is, but do you have any romantic thoughts about her? I know this is early on, but still, you do need to think about that a little bit."
Miles smiled. He folded his hands and stared at them. "Of course, Gramps. I do try to keep my thoughts and feelings on that subject in proper perspective, but, I do think that Jules is just about the prettiest woman I've ever met. I love how I can count the stars in her eyes. They sparkle, so brilliantly; it's almost like a whole new constellation to try and memorize."
Miles' gaze was lost in the darkness. Angus chuckled, and then patted him on the back. "I see now that I had nothing to worry about. Goodnight, Son." He got up and walked towards the front door.
"Goodnight."
Angus wandered off to bed while Miles took his Bible over to the porch swing. He had some praying to do, too. He spent most of the night under the stars, deep in thought. He prayed, his praises ascending through the darkness into the light beyond. He prayed for Jules, he prayed for himself. He asked for wisdom, and patience, and he didn't go back inside until the sun was peeping up over the rooftops in the neighborhood.
"Good morning."
"Morning, Gramps."
Angus eyed the briefcase. He nodded towards it.
"Where are you headed today?"
"I've got an interview at 9:30."
"Oh, okay. Let me know if you hear from Jules. I want her to know that I miss her."
Miles laughed. "Okay, Gramps, I'll tell her."

***

Jules slept in until nearly 11:00. She got up and pulled on her bluejeans and a short, flowered tee shirt dress. She tamed her hair with some mousse and then let it flow freely over her shoulders. She walked over to where Greta was sleeping and bent over her, gently shaking her. "Hey Greta? I hate to wake you up, but we've gotta be out of here in half an hour. How are you feeling?"
"A lot better, but really tired."
"Why don't we just head home? We can take it really slow, with lots of stops."
"That sounds really good."
"Awesome. I can help you with your packing."
"Thanks, girl."
Jules made quick work with their luggage and made two trips down to the car to load everything up. She returned their room keys right on time, and then they were off down the highway.
"That was amazing, but let's not do it again any time soon."
Jules chuckled. "I agree. Do you want to stop somewhere for food?"
"Not yet. Let's wait a little bit. Or wait, let's go to that smoothie place up ahead! That sounds good."
"Mm, yes. I've been wanting to try their mango smoothie, anyway."

***

Jules pulled up into the church parking lot at 7:30 Sunday morning. She stretched and yawned. "It feels so good to be home! Well, almost home." She grinned over at Greta. "I guess we should let folks know we're here."
"Yeah. I'll text the guys."
"Okay. You're good with just parking here until church, right?"
"Oh yeah. I mean, we already stopped to change and brush our teeth so I'm good."
"Great. I texted Dad. I almost feel like I could take a nap."
"Go ahead. We have two hours before anybody will show up."
"True." Jules climbed back into her seat and set it back. She was asleep within moments. Greta fell asleep, too, so they were both startled by the tap on Jules' window.
Jules jumped and accidentally hit the horn. She started laughing and opened her door.
"Miles! And Charlie. What are you guys doing here?"
Miles grinned from ear to ear. "Umm, obviously we brought y'all coffee and breakfast burritos. How does a picnic breakfast sound?"
"That sounds amazing. Just don't take it personally if Greta acts like she hates you; it's just how she is in the morning."
"Excuse me," Greta stepped out of the car and stretched. "I'm only like that when I don't have coffee, and it looks like our heroes brought some."
"Sure, whatever you say." Jules followed Miles over to the picnic table where Charlie was already sitting. Greta followed close behind.
"Hey Charlie."
"Hey. How are you feeling?"
"As good as new. Jules has been spoiling me, and she did almost all the driving on the way back, so I'm pretty well rested."
"Good. I'm glad."
Miles sat down across from Jules and handed her a large coffee. "I got you a vanilla latte."
"Thanks! It's my favorite."
"You're welcome. So, how are you doing? How did it go with your mom?"
"It was amazing, actually. Miles, she follows Jesus! And she invited me to visit her any time I want."
"Arabella is actually a lot like Jules." Greta smiled over at her friend. "They're both really sweet and loving people. Here's a picture of them together." Greta handed her phone over to Miles, and he shared it with Charlie.
"Oh wow," he said, looking up at Jules. "Y'all look a lot alike."
"Dad told me I looked a bit like her, but I wasn't expecting that much similarity. I love her! I'm so, so glad that I decided to go."
"That's wonderful. I'm so glad it would up being a good trip."
"Oh, I almost forgot. Remember how we talk a lot about Anne?"
"Yeah," Charlie said. "I remember you mentioning her a lot. What about her?"
"Well, we found her!" Greta beamed. "Neither Jules nor I had seen her in over four years. And get this, she's going to move back down here sometime in the near future!"
Jules laughed for pure happiness. "I can't wait to have her so close again!"
"That's awesome! It'll be nice to meet her after hearing the two of you talk about her so much. So... are y'all gonna share your pictures with us?"
"Sure! Greta can show you what she's got. I need to grab my phone out of the car. I'll be right back."
"I'll walk with you," Miles said. "If you don't mind."
Jules smiled. "I don't."
Miles fell into step beside her and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "I wanted to see how you're doing."
"You already did," Jules looked up at him with a quiet laugh. Her eyes sparkled.
"I know, but like, I wanted to see how you were doing after everything with--with--what's his name? Tony?"
"Oh, yeah, his name is Tony."
"Ah. So, how are you?"
"I'm actually doing really, really well. I'm happy, Miles. Really happy."
"Well I'm happy for you. I know I already said this the other night, but, I was really scared that we were going to lose you. I thought, well, I realized how awful it would be if I ever lost you. I actually cried, Jules."
"Oh Miles." Jules wiped a tear from her own eyes. "You didn't lose me."
"Jules..." Miles gently took her hands and held them. "From the first time we met, I knew you were special. Like Ruth, your righteousness is known throughout town, and your character followed before you. I know you and I haven't known each other for very long, and you can take all the time you need to answer this, but I just have to ask, will you marry me? I've already asked Duncan and Kevin for their blessings."
Jules looked up into his eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Oh Miles!" She threw her arms around his neck, and he held her tight.
"I think I'll take that as a yes."
She pulled back and beamed up at him. "Yes! That's a definite yes!"
Miles smiled, his eyes twinkling brighter than ever before. He pulled a ring out of his pocket and slipped it onto her left hand. "I love you, Jules."
"I love you, too."
Before they could say anything else, Greta ran up and smothered Jules in a hug. "I am so happy for you, Hon!!" She wiped away a few tears. "Miles and Charlie texted me this morning about what they were planning."
"Oh my word!" Jules' hands fluttered to her face. "I wasn't expecting this at all." She laughed giddily, and Miles slipped his arm around her shoulders.
"I was hoping you wouldn't," he said. "I was so nervous!"
"Alright, enough talk. Let me see the ring, Jules!" Greta gasped and squealed. "Aww, its gorgeous!"
Jules giggled. "It is. Miles has exquisite taste."
"I must, since I picked you. Okay, that was a little cheesy."
They all laughed and made their way back to the picnic table to finish eating. The girls shared more details and pictures from their trip, and the guys listened with rapt attention.
It was a beautiful spring morning, so they all decided to take a walk around the neighborhood together. The spring flowers were more abundant than ever, and the girls stopped a few times to pick some of the pretty posies, making up small bouquets of bright yellows, purples, blues, and reds.
All too soon it was time to gather for church. Jules flew to Duncan and Kevin and hugged them both tightly, then Grace claimed her hug and took a turn gushing over Jules' engagement ring. "I'm so happy for you, Jules! We've missed you." The sweet lady smiled and gave her another warm hug.
"Thank you, Grace. I missed you, too. I have to tell you something. Here," she led Grace over to a quiet corner. "I was so nervous the night before I left for Arizona, and I couldn't sleep. I was afraid things would not go well with my mom, and I was super stressed about it. But then I did fall asleep, and I dreamed that my mom turned out to be a brown-eyed, curly version of you. I woke up at peace. And guess what? My dream came true!"
"Aww!" Grace smiled through her tears. "That is such a blessing to hear, sweetheart. I'm so glad that the Lord took away your anxiety. I love you, sweet girl."
"I love you too, Grace." Jules wrapped her in another warm hug, and smiled over her shoulder. "Here comes Miles." She laughed while he slipped his arm around her. "Did you miss me already?"
"Of course. Just look at us, we're already turning into a cheesy couple."
"Mm, but I like it this way."
Grace laughed. "You two are so cute. I see Kevin waving at me, so I'll just let y'all find your seats."
"Why don't we sit with y'all?" Miles glanced at Jules. "I'm sure Duncan would like it if Jules sat next to him."
"Good idea. I'll follow you, babe."
"I like the sound of that," Miles grinned.

CHAPTER 28-EPILOGUE