As the end of August neared, Julie began to dread the idea of returning home. She had finally heard from David one early afternoon with an unexpected knock on the door. “Are you Julie Donnelly?” asked the man on the stoop.
“Yes,” she nodded. Without another word, the man thrust the envelope into her hand and returned to his car. In that one instant, Julie’s life, and the lives of her children changed forever.
“If you ask me you betta off, he don’t deserve you or those babies of yours,” comforted Mama. And Julie knew she was right. What kind of man, what kind of father, abandons his kids? Abandons his wife? And does it without uttering one word.
Over the next couple of weeks, Julie avoided the manila envelope. Avoided the inevitable. Yet, when she finally opened the document, she wasn’t surprised to find the contents to be as straight forward and exact as David. She, an attorney herself, knew that what she was reading was more than fair. He only asked for his retirement and half of their joint savings, which left all of their remaining assets, including the house and all of its contents, to Julie. He also provided a generous monthly child support and funding of the kid’s educational expenses. It was obvious to Julie, that David wasn’t going to give Julie a reason not to agree to the end of their lives together.
As Summer turned into Fall, and the weather began to cool, things changed in the cottage on Gray Road. Although, Mama continued to be Mama, directing her family (which now included Julie and the kids) in all of their daily activities, something was different, and he had a name. Wyatt had tried many times to get Mama to notice him. “She is one stubborn gal,” he said. But all of his attempts had paid off when Mama finally agreed to “spend time” with him. He immediately became, yet, another familiar face, coming in and out, of the cottage and into their lives.
Lily remained a bundle of sleepless energy, but now she was a walking and talking one. She still lit up when Mama appeared and consistently tailed her, with excitement and glee, and mimicking all of Mama’s mannerisms. Mama took advantage of her little shadow and put Lily to work by wiping dishes, baking treats or doing pretty much anything else Mama wanted her to do. Maurice headed off to college outside of Boston, where Julie had left three months prior, and had taken the key to Julie’s house. He promised to maintain both the house and the grounds until a decision was made on its fate. Danielle and Tanya started their senior and junior years, respectively, in high school, and although busy with studies and other activities, they continued to spend most of their free time with the kids. Their father, Terrence, came to Gray Road on leave and a friendship was immediately struck between him and Julie. His calm and quiet demeanor caught Julie by surprise, and she wondered how a man, like Terrence, could possibly be the offspring of the dynamic and vibrant Mama. During the few weeks that Terrence was home, they spent most evenings sitting in the yard, under the apple tree, on the bench that Mama’s daddy had built, with Mama usually nearby and smiling. Julie learned so much about Terrence, and even more about the Gray family, during those evenings. Happily, their talks continued after he left, but were mostly by email with the occasional phone call.
Julie informed her employer that she would not be returning to the firm and began taking the necessary steps to set up her own practice, at the cottage on Gray Road.
“Oh, honey, you will have so much work, you won’t know what hit’cha” said Mama, to the plan. David had attempted to call, a few times, but when she forwarded the calls to voicemail he didn’t leave a message. She heard from a colleague that her soon to be ex-husband had left his firm, but the co-worker didn’t know where he had gone. She knew that she would call him back, eventually.
Jeremy began pre-school and his progress, both verbally and academically, gave Julie much hope. He was able to calm his body for longer periods of time, and, as his communication skills increased, so did his conversations with the tree; and with Julie; and with Mama, and with Lily. And, in fact, with everyone.
And, the apple tree, in the freshly groomed yard of the “classic and charming” cottage on Gray Road, bore fruit, red, juicy and abundant fruit, for the first time in 21 years.