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Julie was standing on Paul’s front porch with brown leaves in her hair, chapped lips and streaks of tears running down her cheeks. She pounded on the wooden door while holding the outer glass door open with her hip. He took a little while getting to the door, but then finally swung it open. He began to roll up his sleeves to help Julie take her coat off but she ran past him, ignoring the mustard stain on his pants she would have usually pointed out. She sat on his brown sofa and let her teardrops drip down on to her acid wash jeans.
“What’s wrong Julie? Did he hurt you again? I swear I’m…” Paul began to say while shutting the door, but then Julie interrupted.
“No… no he didn’t do anything this time. It’s me, Paul. It’s me being an idiot and just…” she broke down and began to cry even harder. Paul sat down next to Julia and held his sleeve out in front of her. She chuckled in response and said “No thanks.”
“You know I’m always here for you, always have been… you know you can tell me anything.” he said sincerely. “I’m going to get some tea. Give me your coat and relax on the sofa. I’ll be back in a minute” He took her jacket and hung it on a metal hook on the back of the front door.
His fireplace had ashes in it, some scattered outside of the glass doors that protected it. The windows were all shut but Julie could still hear the wind squeezing into the house. There was hardly any light in the living room but that’s how it always was, and it was something she liked about the house ever since she was little. Calmness always lingered in the McCabe’s house, nothing fast-paced and nothing too loud. She remembered when they were little and they came to his house after school, and how his mother would be in her sewing room as they crept into the kitchen pantry. When they heard his mom coming they would grab the cookie jar and head behind the brown couch. Eventually she would find them and they would stash away the cookie jar in Julie’s backpack. They pretended like nothing happened but they always knew they were caught when Mrs. McCabe giggled at the crumbs around their mouth’s.
Julie smelled blueberry tea and followed the scent to the kitchen. Paul had just finished pouring hot water into the second cup and noticed her leaning against the white fridge when he looked up. He walked over to her and handed her the cup “Its blueberry, your favorite. I dried out the leaves last week; I hope it’s still strong.” She held the cup under her chin, closed her eyes and let the steam swim up her face.
“It smells perfect.” She pulled the cup away while gently blowing on it. “There’s something… I don’t know what to do.” She cleared her throat but it didn’t prevent the tears build up in her eyes, “I’m pregnant, Paul. I just found out last night and Joseph doesn’t know yet and I’m so confused.” She began to sob.
Paul took the cups and set them gently on the counter. He hugged Julie tightly into him and felt her tears saturate through his shirt. “Whatever you do, you have my full support.” He reassured then kissed the side of her head, “You know how I feel about Josh, you don’t need to hear me repeat myself. But ultimately this is your decision and if you want someone by your side, I’m sorry that I can’t be here to help you through this.”
Julie grabbed one of the mugs behind Paul and sipped the tea with her hands cupped around it. She scowled at the memory of Paul receiving a letter in the mail earlier that week confirming his eight-month combat deployment… just four months short of how long she had been married to Joseph. The hot tea singed her lips as she sipped it slow. Both she and Paul stood in the kitchen, completely silent yet thinking too many thoughts. Paul wanted to help, but he knew he had limitations and Julie needed someone to look after her while he was away. They had been friends since they were children and he had been next to her every bump along the way. This was something totally different, something unavoidable and he felt the situation was not in his hands until Joseph decided to step aside.
“That’s it” Julie began to nod, “I’m going to see Joseph tomorrow, I’m going to tell him about the baby and hopefully…” Paul cut her off.
“Julie, you can’t keep going back to him. Remember last time? He took all your money, and what happened then, Julie? Do you want a drug addict around your child?” he tried to persuade her.
“What am I supposed to do Paul? Raise my child without a father, without a home? I can’t raise my baby in the hotel room I’m staying in!” She caressed her belly where the child had not yet grown big enough to bulge.
“You can stay here. I’ll have my mom come and stay with you, she’s a nurse, and she can really help you out until I get back,” he offered.
“And when you get back?...” She massaged her forehead and said, “Look, I’m going to stop by the auto shop tomorrow, I’ll find Joseph. Maybe he’s changed, I don’t know, it’s only been a few weeks since the divorce. Maybe he’s realized what he’s lost, you know?” Julie held tightly on to the little hope she had. She backed out of the kitchen and went for the front door, grabbing her jacket on the way out.
It was an average brisk, Maine morning. The fog had settled down on land for the entire night and still lingered when Julie left the house. She opted to walk instead of drive into town. She took a well-memorized path that came in handy through high school, when her and her friends would skip school to drink. It went through a white pine needle forest and down past a pebble beach. The air was clean and leaves crunched under her feet. From there she usually would have been able to see the Navy shipyard in the middle of the bay.
Julie went down Darne Street towards the auto shop and already she could feel a knot in her stomach. Each step took her closer to the person she most feared and the person she wanted the most to help her. She tried to convince herself that Joseph had enough time to change, that he was no longer the man she most feared in Kittery, that maybe there was a slight possibility he could treat her right.
Julie slowly stepped up to the garage and paused to take a deep breath, and contemplate whether or not she should go back. Suddenly a man came out from behind a car that was being worked on. Joseph stood there, covered in oil and shirtless.
“What you want now? Your money back?” he shouted over the drilling in the entire garage. Julie still walked over to him, and with each step he yelled at her. She let her head hang down, almost as if she were a dog being scolded.
“Joseph…” she held her breath while he stood there with arms crossed, “Remember that last exercise the therapist made us try, just a week before the divorce, where we tried to pretended there were no conflicts, no reasons to argue, but really all we did was ignore each other all day and make up for it at night?” He smirked when she mentioned their nightly encounters but simply replied that he hated the therapist. Julie stared at him dead in the eyes and said “Joseph, I’m pregnant.” She had hoped to read his emotions through his eyes, but instead his eyes darted for the concrete floor. He sucked in his lips and bit down on them hard while taking a few steps back. “I just want to know if you will help me out, help our child out.” She reached out slightly to him as tears formed in her eyes.
Julie knew that given their past, he might be reluctant to start back up with her, but it was not until then that she felt the weight of his rejection. She wanted nothing more than to have a simple and easy life, but she couldn’t resist asking herself why she would even want someone like him around her child. Then again she couldn’t imagine raising the baby without a father, the way she was raised.
“Look, I dunno who you think you are anymore…”Joseph wrinkled his eyebrows and sharply looked up at her, “I mean, you come in here looking for me. You tell me I have a baby to take care of now. Hello! Do you not understand that I want nothing to do with you? I can comfortably admit now that I never wanted you, I wanted your money.” He sucked on his teeth. “Not only am I completely over dealing with your bullsh*t, but if you seriously think that I’m gonna spend the rest of my life taking care of your little problem, then I think you’re just a complete fool and selfish b****!” Joseph kicked his foot back and turned around on his heel.
Tears rolled down Julie’s cheeks and splattered on to the oil-stained concrete ground. Her hands trembled and fell to her side while she stared off into whatever expectations she had of him, in relentless dismay of the rejection. She stood paralyzed only for a minute before darting out of the shop and heading for Paul’s house. She ran past the white pines, ignored the Navy yard and dared not to recall any memories. Light drops of rain began to slap against her skin. She wiped away the drops from her cheeks as they got thicker, and realized she had been crying when she felt warm water rather than the cold rain. The salty tears came down to her mouth as she arrived at Paul’s house. This time, he opened the door before she made it up the porch and he grabbed her tightly to him as it began to pour. She gripped tightly onto his shoulders and Paul said “You don’t have to explain” as he kissed her head.
The two walked into his house, him following her. It was warm because the fireplace was lit and he had his guitar leaning against the sofa. Julie knew he liked to play the guitar on rainy days so she apologized. “I shouldn’t have come Paul. I’m sorry this isn’t your problem.” She mumbled and began to head back to the door, but instead he took her hand and led her to the lazy boy across from the couch.
“Just sit down. You should know by now…” he sat down on the sofa and picked up his guitar, “…that this is your home too. You came rushing here in the rain for a reason, and you have no reason to leave.” He began to tune as Julie began to speak.
“I want a normal life Paul. I’ve always had to live a normal life through you, through your family. Growing up in my house, with just me and Mom… I knew that’s not what I wanted for my own child.” she trailed off while looking down, but then she looked back up at him and began to say “Paul. What if, I mean hypothetically of course, it’s just a question…” Paul looked up at her and stopped tuning. He could tell she was nervous by how she stared him dead in the eyes. She held her breath as though she were under water, then she blurted out, “Would you want to help me? With this?” She cradled her stomach with the palm of her hand.
“Wait… do you mean let you live here? Of course. You know that offer always stands.” He began to tune slowly, hesitant and aware that she might begin to say more.
“We’ve been friends for a long time now… do you think you would want to officially and legally be a parents to this child?” She asked him.
“If you’re asking me what I think you are… then I’d help you no matter what. I’d do anything to help you.” He reached across the coffee table and took her hand. “You’re my best friend …you have been for years and years, and you don’t deserve to be crying over some scum.”
“You do know what I’m getting at, right Paul?” she inquired.
“If we’re raising a child together, why not be together? If we’ve been together for 25 years, what’s another 60 or so?” Paul locked her in his stare and began to play his guitar. He looked at her the entire time, his eyes ceasing to stray away from hers. The house was pulsing from the rain, but they sat still next to the fire. He sung of renewal; a new beginning as fresh as spring. The chorus of the chords sounded different each time to her, but still there was a familiarity in the repetition of his words. What once was a heavy patter on the roof now became a subtle canopy of rain hugging the house. Julie sat there facing him, listening to everything he had to say in the song. The light from the fire illuminated the warm honey complexion of her face. Each strum of the strings on his guitar enhanced his serenade, and their eyes danced together, infused with passion. Though the room was dim and only the greyness from outside and the fireplace between them lit the room, she felt the enlightenment of a thousand suns. Raindrops slithered down the windows like racing snakes, competing to saturate the black soil and green grass below.