Authors: Micalea Smeltzer
Once dinner was done, Jude and I stayed to clean the dishes. On his way out of the room, Jerry said, “Make sure to fix a bowl of leftovers for her to take home.”
“Will do,” Jude chimed, turning on the hot water and taking the bowls from my hands. “I’ll wash, you dry.”
We stood side by side, cleaning and putting away the dishes used.
If someone had told me a week ago that I would be in Jude’s grandpa’s house cleaning dishes I would have told them they were batshit crazy, flipped them the bird, and strode away.
But right now, there was no place I’d rather be.
I’d forgotten what it was like to sit down with other people and eat a meal. But it was more than that. There was a comfort present in this home that had long been absent from mine—even before Graham died.
Sometimes, I think the mind has the ability to make you forget traumatic things, at least temporarily. I wondered what all I might have blocked myself from remembering.
“I hope he wasn’t too bad,” Jude murmured under his breath in case his grandpa still lurked near us. “I didn’t want to leave you alone with him, but I knew he wouldn’t quit asking me to mow and I if I didn’t do it, he’d try to and—”
I surprised us both by reaching up and placing a finger against his lips. It effectively ceased his rambling, but now we were locked in a staring contest and I wasn’t sure who would look away first.
Of course it was me.
Swallowing thickly, I continued to dry the already pristine bowl in my hands. “You had nothing to worry about,” I told him. “Your grandpa is pretty amazing.”
He chuckled. “You might be the only person that thinks so.”
“Besides you,” I added, because we both knew it was true. He didn’t need to say it.
“Yeah,” he cracked a smile, “I think he’s pretty amazing.” He looked over his shoulder, as if his grandpa was standing there, but I’d heard his footsteps ascend the steps a few minutes earlier. “I worry about him,” he whispered under his breath, then looked at me with soft brown eyes.
I didn’t know how to handle this Jude. He was a stranger to me.
None of my normal bitchy comments would be appropriate right now. Jude was being oddly serious, and I needed to do the same. It was hard though, because I was afraid of being played.
“I’m sure you do,” I gave him a reassuring smile. Because he’d opened up about why he wante
d to be a nurse, and showed me a vulnerable side of himself that I hadn’t known existed before, I added, “I worry about my mom.”
“Your mom? Why?” His thick brows furrowed together.
I let out a heavy sigh. My shoulders drooped with heaviness. “It’s a long story.”
“I like stories.” His voice was soft with none of his normal joking tone.
“This isn’t a story I want to tell,” I shrugged, setting the dish aside and taking the next one he offered me. Since it was the last, he pulled the plug from the sink and the soapy water swirled away.
He leaned a hip against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. The action caused his short sleeve shirt to ride up a bit, exposing the smooth planes of his stomach and the dents that disappeared underneath the band of his jeans.
Annnnd, I was staring. Again.
Jude noticed where my eyes lingered and a smirk lifted his full lips. “It’s okay to look, Tatum.”
A blush stained my cheeks and I hastily turned away. I hated being flustered but I was beginning to feel like that’s all I ever was around Jude.
“We better go,” he said, grabbing up two plastic containers full of chili—one for me and one for him. “It’s getting pretty late.”
For the first time since we arrived on the farm I thought of my mother home alone with no one to take care of her. I couldn’t believe I’d completely forgotten her. What was wrong with me?
Jude pulled on a sweatshirt and held the front door open for me.
The small lights outside didn’t provide enough clarity for walking, so Jude guided me to his truck with a hand balanced above my waist. He held the door open for me as I climbed inside and then handed me the containers to hold on the ride home.
Neither of us said much, and it wasn’t until he dropped me off at campus to get my car that I realized he’d never asked me a question today.
“Hey, Mr. Jenkins, how are you doing?” Jude asked the man lying in the bed as he glanced down at a chart.
“I’m doing better now that you’re here,” the man coughed, his entire small frame shaking with the movement. “None of these women ever want to talk about sports. It’s annoying.”
Jude chuckled and pulled out a chair, sitting beside the man. He reached for his arm and started taking his pulse. “What do you want to talk about today?”
“Baseball,” he responded.
As Jude took the man’s vitals he immediately lapsed into an easy conversation about different teams, stats, and a bunch of other things that sounded like he was speaking Martian. I’d been a cheerleader for a short time before Graham died, and I knew a
about football, but not enough to brag about.
As Jude quieted, taking notes, the man asked, “Who’s this pretty lady? Your girlfriend?”
his girlfriend,” I spat before Jude could respond and I said it like it was the grossest thing imaginable.
“She doesn’t know it yet,” Jude’s grin lifted his cheeks as he looked at Mr. Jenkins, “but one day I’m going to marry that girl.”
“Over my dead body,” I grumbled, rolling my eyes as I stood in the corner jotting down notes for my paper.
“I’m a nurse. I could revive you,” he quipped without a second of thought.
Jude had an answer for everything. Turning towards the man lying in the bed, he told him, “She thinks she’s immune to my charm, but she’s not. No one is.” Looking back at me he winked.
I shook my head, feigning that I was disgusted, but I really wasn’t. With as much time as I’d spent with Jude in the past week
of shadowing him, I’d gotten to the point that I could tolerate him. I was trying to watch what I said and not be rude, because I really hoped he’d take me back to his grandpa’s farm. I was dying to see it during the day.
“Don’t worry,” Mr. Jenkins reached over and patted Jude’s hand, “she’ll come around one day.”
Smiling at me with his brown eyes sparkling, he said, “I know.”
“So, if you’re not his girlfriend, why are you here?” Mr. Jenkins addressed me.
I wanted to laugh at his girlfriend comments. It seemed he, and everyone else, was convinced that we were dating.
“I’m writing a paper on nurses and how much work they have to do. It’ll cover more than that, but that’s just the gist of it,” I shrugged, twirling my pencil between my fingers from nerves.
“Interesting,” he commented, and then turned to Jude and started talking about sports again.
In my time at the nursing home with Jude, I’d quickly learned that he took the time to get know everyone. He knew personal details about each person he dealt with, and spent time talking to them. I’d seen several patients’ light up as soon as he entered their room.
I’d never known Jude had this side to him. I’d seen a glimmer of it the day at his grandpa’s, but with each additional day I spent with him a new layer of Jude was exposed. There was far more to Jude than I or anyone else ever knew. I think he
people to think he was dumb and nothing but a playboy because that was what was
of him. In actuality, the man had more of a heart than anyone I knew. He surprised me with his kindness towards the patients he dealt with. Even when he had to deal with someone being fussy he stayed calm and kept a genuine smile on his face. It was obvious to me that he was doing what he loved by taking care of people. I hated to admit it, but I admired that about him.
After talking to Mr. Jenkins for at least twenty minutes, Jude stood and with apology written in his voice he said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Jenkins, but I have to go. I’ll see you again soon, though.”
“Take care,” Mr. Jenkins smiled at me, and then Jude. To Jude he whispered, but loud enough for me to hear him, “Don’t let that one get away.”
“I don’t plan on it,” Jude assured him.
I followed Jude out of the room and cornered him in the hallway. “Are nursing home patients performing some kind of matchmaking service for us or something?”
Jude’s laugh bellowed around the hallway. “Why don’t you just admit that there’s something between us?” He smiled crookedly. “Everyone can see it, so why can’t you?”
“I have twenty/twenty vision,” I replied easily, “clearly everyone else is simply seeing things.”
“You have an answer for everything,” he muttered as he turned down the hallway to visit another patient.
For the rest of the evening I took notes and asked Jude questions. He always surprised me with his long, thought provoking answers. I wondered if he’d ever stop shocking me.
Later that evening, we were getting into his truck when his cellphone beeped with a text message.
Jude smiled at whatever the message said.
“What is it?” I asked
curiously. I couldn’t seem to stop the words from tumbling out of my mouth.
“Rowan wants to know if we’d like to come over
for dinner,” he shrugged.
“How does she know we’re together tonight?” I frowned.
“It’s Rowan,” he chuckled, “she knows everything. You want to or not?”
I thought of my mother sitting at home by herself, staring listlessly around at nothing.
A good daughter would refuse the invitation and go home to take care of her.
But I was tired of being good.
“Sounds like fun,” I replied, buckling my seatbelt.
Jude smiled widely. He hadn’t believed
I would agree. Was I really that predictable?
We were quiet on the drive to the townhouse Rowan and Trent shared. A few minutes before we arrived, Jude said, “My grandpa has been asking about you.”
“He has?” I don’t know why that fact made me light up so much.
“Yeah, he misses you. He still thinks you’re this mysterious Julia person though,” he chuckled.
Even if to his grandpa I was simply a girl named Julia, that may or may not have ever existed, it still warmed my heart that he missed me. No one had missed me for a long time.
“I’d like to see him again sometime,” I told him, my soft voice betraying a shyness I didn’t normally feel.
“Really?” Jude seemed genuinely surprised by my admission.
“Absolutely,” I nodded as we rounded the corner and the row of townhouses came into view.
He didn’t say anything but the way his lips were pursed I knew he was mulling over my reply.
He parked the truck in front of the house and I hopped out before we could have another heart to heart.
I jogged up the front steps and rang the doorbell.
Rowan let us inside and led us back through the house towards the kitchen.
I screamed when I saw something furry scurry across the floor. Somehow, I ended up grabbing ahold of Jude’s arm and hiding half-behind him. As soon as I realized what I’d done I released him and stepped away, my cheeks tinged pink.
“That’s just Bartholomew,” Rowan explained. At my continued befuddled appearance she added, “Trent’s ferret.”
“Oh,” I nodded, “the ferret. Of course. I thought it was a mouse,” I mumbled under my breath.
“Dinner’s almost ready,” Rowan continued, “the table’s set, so you guys can sit down with the kids. Trent and I have this covered.”
She didn’t wait for us to reply, with a swish of her long light brown hair she was gone.
Jude nodded his head towards the table. We didn’t make it very far b
efore we heard, “Hey, Jude!” In a sing-song voice.
“The kid never gets tired of that,” he chuckled.
“At least he has good taste in music for a six year old,” I smiled.
Tristan, Rowan and Trent’s son, appeared at the top of the stairs running down them towards us. Well, not
, but to Jude.
Jude lowered so that the small boy crashed into his waiting arms, giving him a giant bear hug. Standing, Jude spun Tristan around, his high-pitched shrieks of delight echoing through the space.
“Don’t kill my son!” Rowan called from the kitchen.
“Fun sucker,” Jude and Tristan said at the same time.
I shook my head, looking around for Ivy—Rowan’s nine year old little sister that lived with them. She came down the steps too, although not as enthusiastically as Tristan. Ivy was a sweet girl, but I knew the last year or so had been rough on her emotionally. With her morose expression and overall melancholy appearance I wanted nothing more than to reach out and hug her.
“Hi, Ivy, how are you?” I asked, suppressing a laugh as Jude ran around with Tristan’s arms wrapped around his neck,
the boy hanging down his back like a cape.
“I’m good,” she replied softly, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. She looked up at me with wide, doll-like, eyes. “How are you?”
Ivy was always so polite, sounding more like someone middle-aged than the young girl she really was.
“I’m doing okay. Your hair looks pretty like that,” I commented, noticing she had two strand pulled back in a braid, secured with an elastic.
“Thank you,” she smiled, maneuvering around me to get to the table.
I sat down too, while Jude and Tristan continued to play.
Trent carried out a large dish, the scent of garlic and marinara lingering in the air. My stomach rumbled and I longed to dig in.
“Be careful with him,” Trenton warned Jude.
As soon as Trent was gone, Jude looked at me and rolled his eyes. He mouthed, “Overprotective.”
A few minutes later we were all seated, ready to eat.
Trent cooked most of their meals because he really enjoyed it. Tonight he’d made homemade lasagna. My mouth watered at the heavenly aroma. Between Jude’s grandpa and now this, I was getting spoiled.
Jude cut a piece and set it on my plate. I gaped at him and he shrugged, a small smile threatening to tug up his lips. His gesture didn’t go unnoticed by Rowan and she watched us
sharply. She didn’t miss anything.
I took a bite and flavors exploded across my tongue. Taking a sip of ice water, I told Trent, “This is delicious. Thanks for having us over.”
Trent set his fork down, looking across at where Jude and I sat. “Wait…” His head swiveled towards Rowan. “Are they together now?”
I snorted, not only at his question, but at how he addressed Rowan instead of us.
Rowan lifted a single brow, tilting her head towards Jude and I. “Well?”
“No,” I said at the same time Jude replied with, “I wish.”
“Hmm,” she mused, sitting back in her chair. She watched us closely, like we were a map she was trying to decipher.
Clearing my throat, I went back to eating my food. I tried my hardest to ignore the heat infusing my cheeks.
Trent, obviously, didn’t understand that I’d like the subject dropped because the next thing out of his mouth was, “I think you guys would make a great couple.”
Was no one on my side?
I felt like everyone was rooting for Jude and I to end up together, and frankly all I could think about was graduating college and the enormity of life as an adult. The last thing I needed to add into the mix was any sort of relationship, especially one with
“I think so too,” Jude smirked, tossing an arm over my shoulders. I shrugged off his touch like he carried some disease I might contract if he got too close.
Yeah, I was totally acting like a little kid freaking out at the thought of
but I didn’t care. Ignoring my gesture, Jude leaned his face towards mine, but looked at Trent and Row. “Don’t we look so
together,” he flipped his hand in the air, making his voice sound high and over exaggerating his words, “
we’d have the most
.” Despite myself, I couldn’t help giggling.
Tristan started to laugh too, and then everyone was laughing. Leave it to Jude to make me feel better by turning it into a joke.
Once our laughter dulled, Rowan moved the topic to more neutral grounds. “How’s your paper going?”
I shrugged. “Okay, I guess.” I’d only rewritten it like ten times. It was my final paper and I wanted it to not only be perfect, but to
something. I wanted to make an impact with the story and my words.
“Come on Tater Tot, give us more than that,” Jude chimed in.
“Tater Tot?” Tristan giggled, marinara sauce spread over his cheeks. “That’s a funny nickname.”
I elbowed Jude in the ribs and mumbled, “Stop calling me that.”
“Mommy says hitting isn’t nice,” Tristan’s eyes widened as he witnessed the gesture. “You should say you’re sorry and kiss it to make it better.”
Jude leaned back in the chair so that only two legs rested on the ground. His brown eyes sparkled with barely contained laughter. I was in trouble now. Crap. “Yeah, Tate, kiss it and make it better. It hurts really bad.” He pouted his full lips and proceeded to pull his shirt up
so that his side was exposed.