Every fictional character I’ve ever written has come to me in a dream. A couple of weeks ago I dreamed about a brave young couple and I instantly fell head over heels in love with both of them. I’ve been wanting to write down their story since then and today I finally did. My method of writing fiction (well, writing anything for that matter) is just to get it all out. I don’t do a lot of outlining or planning and I don’t do a lot of editing or proofreading. At least not initially. So today I want to share with you these lovely people who came to me in a dream and their raw, unedited, as-it-came-to-me story. It’s a story inspired by all of the brave and lovely people who have chosen the hard work of adoption. I hope you love Jules and Junior as much as I do.
A well meaning sex ed teacher once told them that sex was an act between two people who loved each other very much. Well, Jules and Junior loved each other very much, so sex is what they did.
She was 14 years old when she started to notice something was different. It wasn’t long after that her ninth grade literature teacher, Miss Compton, noticed, too. Miss Compton noticed that Jules rushed out of the classroom and to the bathroom three times in a week. She also noticed when the too small shirts that Jules would wear start exposing more of her belly, in addition to jeans that wouldn’t button anymore.
One morning after Jules slept through a class discussion on Lord of the Flies, Miss Compton asked her to stay back. “I’m so tired lately,” Jules said, before Miss Compton had a chance to say anything at all. “I sleep at night, I swear I do,” she said, anticipating a talking to from her teacher. Miss Compton looked carefully at Jules. She’s just a child, she thought. Jules looked just like her mom only fresher, younger, less worn out from worry and substance abuse. Miss Compton had only met Jules’ mother once, and it certainly wasn’t at a school event. It was in a gas station parking lot, when Jules waved Miss Compton over to proudly introduce her teacher to her mother and younger brother.
Miss Compton looked at Jules there in her classroom and knew that with all the innocence of a student who proudly introduces an intoxicated mother to a public school teacher in a gas station parking lot, Jules had no idea. She had no idea she was pregnant. “Let’s go for a walk,” she said, picking up Jules’ backpack from the floor beside her desk. The backpack was pink, dirty, and nearly empty. Miss Compton set her hand lightly on Jules’ shoulder and steered her towards the nurse’s office.
Junior’s first reaction to hearing he was going to be a 15 year old father was intense joy. He still loved Jules as much as he did that afternoon when he unbuttoned her jeans and expressed his love for her just how he thought he was supposed to. His next reaction was intense fear. “Jules,” he said quietly, looking her straight in her blue eyes, holding her delicate face in his hands, “what are we going to do with a baby?”
They told Junior’s dad that same day Miss Compton had walked Jules to the nurse’s office. They sat on the couch in Junior’s living room across for his dad in his recliner. They held hands. “Jules is going to have a baby!” Junior said and despite his fear he couldn’t hide his excitement. He and Jules had done this together, just the two of them, and no matter what happened, he was proud of that.
Junior’s dad had seen the signs, too, and like Miss Compton had drawn his conclusions. He was hoping he was wrong, however, and he was blaming himself. He ran his hand through his graying hair and wished for the thousandth time that Junior’s mom was still alive, that he didn’t have to do this parenting thing alone. “Well,” he finally said, “that is something.”
Junior beamed. Jules smiled weakly. It was her idea to tell Junior’s dad. She knew he wouldn’t yell. She knew he would care. She knew he would do something. “Well,” she echoed. “What should we do?”
Junior’s dad blew out the breath he had been holding it. What should they do? How should he know? He had spent the years since his wife died burying himself in his work on the farm, out of necessity and out of desperation. He didn’t know how to do life without her. Now he looked across the small living room at this young man in front of him, this father to be, his son. Her son. Their son. It was like looking in a time traveling mirror. Thin and tall with black greased back hair, Junior looked just like his dad when he was his age. Of course at my age I was too busy working to have time to knock anybody up. And even though he thought that maybe he should feel a number of things – anger, disappointment, fear, shame – he looked at his son and all he felt was intense love.
“What we’re going to do is what’s best for everyone involved,” he said. He looked at Jules now, so small. “Jules,” he said, “what do you think about giving this baby up for adoption?”
Junior couldn’t believe how quickly Jules’ stomach had grown. He loved to put his hands right on it, to feel the tiny baby move around in there. She still came to his house every afternoon after school just like she always did. She said her mom still hadn’t noticed her belly. He didn’t believe that her mom hadn’t noticed, but he didn’t like to burst Jules’ bubble. She was so positive, so sure of herself, yet he was sure that behind all of those weak smiles Jules knew that her mom had noticed. But pretending her mom hadn’t noticed was easier than admitting that her mom didn’t care.
The doctor at the clinic said the baby would be coming any day now. They had met with the adoptive family – that’s what they were called, the people who were going to take care their baby, the “adoptive family.” Jules kept forgetting and calling them the “adopting family.” Junior didn’t correct her, because in his mind her word was just as right as the right word – they were the family doing the adopting.
The week before the baby came Jules and Junior got off the bus in front of Junior’s old farm house. Junior carried his backpack on one shoulder and Jules’ on the other. Her hand was on her lower back and she walked slowly to the house. He set their backpacks down with a thud in the foyer and helped her lower herself onto the couch. “Are you feeling okay?” he asked her, crouching in front of her and resting his hands on her thighs. “Is the baby coming?”
“No, no,” she said, laughing. “The baby’s not coming. Not yet. It’s just my back is killing me.” She shifted on the couch in an attempt to get comfortable.
Junior sat back on his heels and thought for a minute. He had a flash of a memory – his mom coming in from helping his dad on the farm with her hand on her lower back saying, “My back is killing me.” What would she do?
After a moment it came to him, “A bath!” he said.
“What?” Jules asked.
“A steaming hot bath!” he said, squeezing her thighs lightly. “That’s what my mom used to do when her back was killing her. That’s exactly what she’d say, too. She’d say, ‘My back is killing me,’ and then she would fill up the bathtub with steaming hot water – I mean it, there was actual steam – and lay in there for a while. It helped!”
“Okay,” Jules said, putting her hands on Junior’s shoulders in order to hoist herself from the couch. “Do you think I could take a bath here?”
“Of course! Yes!” Junior said, excited to be able to do something to help. He had rubbed her back during her bouts of morning sickness, helped her clumsily sew elastic into the waistband of her jeans, and helped her remember to take her vitamins. He wanted to be a part of every step. He started running up the stairs, then came back and took her elbow to help her climb to the top. He led her into the big bathroom, the one with the claw-foot tub in the middle. “You sit here,” he said, pulling over a stool.
He sat next to her on the floor and they watched the tub fill up with steaming hot water – “see the steam?” When the tub was full, so full some was sure to slosh out when Jules lowered herself in, he said, “Okay, I’ll give you some privacy,” and headed toward the door.
“No, don’t,” she said. “You can stay.” She dropped the t-shirt of Junior’s she had been wearing and her jeans on the floor. She stood in front of him in her mismatched bra and underwear. He looked her up and down and loved her fiercely. She smiled at him, feeling safe with him, but she was still a child in so many ways. She turned and climbed into the tub in her underwear. He sat back down on the floor next to the stool, and smiled at her.
“How does it feel?” he asked.
“Steaming hot,” she said, smiling. She closed her eyes and leaned her head back. The ends of her blonde hair floated in the water around her shoulders.
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Junior figured she had fallen asleep. She did that so often nowadays. But then she turned her head to look and him and said, “Will you sit with me, Junior?”
He stood up. “What do you mean, Jules? I’m right here.”
“Will you sit with me in here?” she asked, indicating the tub with her head. “You know, behind me,” she sat up and motioned behind her with her hand. “Like in the movies.”
He knew what she was talking about. Anytime a man and a woman were in a tub together in the movies, the man sat behind the woman and she leaned her head against his chest. It sounded nice to him. He wordlessly dropped his t-shirt and jeans next to hers, and climbed in behind her in his underwear. Some water splashed out the side, but neither noticed. She leaned her head back against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her swollen belly.
They talked about all the things their baby might have and be and do. He kept his hands there on the thin skin that kept their baby safe and thought about how strong and wonderful Jules was to grow their baby. “I can’t believe it, Jules,” he said.
“What?” she asked. “You can’t believe what?”
“That you did this!” he said. “That you grew an entire baby. Soon it will be here, breathing and pooping and crying. And you did that!”
She laughed. “We did it, Junior.”
“You did most of it, though,” he said.
They didn’t hear his dad coming up the stairs. They were too busy dreaming and laughing and floating to hear him call for them. It wasn’t until he was standing in the doorway (of the door they had left open) that they noticed him. “Oh,” he said, utterly taken aback. “Oh.”
Junior and Jules stared at him, wondering if he’d yell at them. Jules even put her hands on the edge of the tub like she was going to hoist herself out. But Junior’s dad didn’t yell or even say anything besides, “Oh.” He just turned around and walked back down the stairs.
He walked back down the stairs, out the door, and into the field. “Did you see them?” he said to the wind, to his wife. The tears streamed down his face and only the cows could see. “They’re just children. They’re just babies, baby. But they love each other so much, you know?” The wind blew softly by his face, drying his tears as soon as they fell. He felt her there. She was the reason he recognized true love and he saw it there in the claw-foot bathtub where she used to soak after spending a day helping him on their farm.
“They’re so strong,” he told the wind, he told his wife. “They’re so strong.”