Usually the car rides to Will's house were quiet because Julia didn't want to talk. Now, that's all she wanted to do, but sensing Will's tenseness, she kept quiet. He was letting her talk to him, but Julia wanted to make sure it was on his terms.
"Ah, crap," Will said. As he and Julia entered the house they were greeted with the sound of a vacuum cleaner. "I forgot, the cleaners are here," he said. Instead of going to the kitchen, he headed upstairs. "Come on, they don't go in my room."
Julia followed Will upstairs to his room. She had never been upstairs, and was surprised to see that despite not allowing the cleaners in, his room was surprisingly clean. Will sat down in his desk chair, and Julia sat awkwardly on the edge of the bed, trying to figure out where to start. She looked at Will.
"You wanted to talk, Julia," Will said. "So talk."
Julia paused for a moment, and then said, "You know, I used to be like Daphne."
Whatever Will was expecting her to say, it wasn't that. The side of his mouth quirked upward, just for a moment. "I doubt that," he said.
Julia shook her head. "No, it's true," she said. "I mean, minus the cheerleading part, cheer wasn't that big of a deal at my school. But the rest of it, the huge friend group, the guys, the clothes, the makeup, the popularity, all of it, that used to be me."
Will looked at her but didn't say anything. He waited for her to continue.
"And of course, there was a guy," Julia said. "His name is Dustin. And we were on and off and on and off. And maybe he's a bad guy, maybe he's just a jerk, I don't know. But that's what we were fighting about."
"Who's we?" Will asked.
"Me and my parents," Julia said hollowly. "They didn't like him and I had just gotten back together with him and wanted to go to a party that night at his house. And they didn't want me to go." Julia paused and swallowed hard. She continued. "And I said that they didn't ever want me to have fun and they just wanted to make my life miserable." Julia paused again. "And, I don't know how, but they were both just so calm. They took whatever I said and just let it go right through them, neither of them reacted. And I just kept yelling and screaming at them. And my dad, he was driving and he never got angry. He should have gotten angry but he didn't." She stopped.
"It's okay, Julia," Will said. "Take your time."
Julia swallowed hard again and nodded. "And my mom was telling me again that I couldn't go, and then my dad, he just yells. He yells out 'Jules!' And then that was it. Next thing I know I was dragged out of the car, and that was it."
Will looked down and then back at her. "Jesus, Julia, I, I don't even know."
Julia, who had at some point looked down at Will's floor kept her eyes there. "My friend, Alicia, or at least I thought she was my friend, she saw the whole thing. She just happened to be at the intersection, there's a Starbucks there. And all I remember is her holding on to me, trying to keep me upright. But they were gone." They sat in silence for a moment. "And the worst part it," Julia said, her voice almost at a whisper, "I don't know if my dad yelled my name because he saw the car coming, or if because he was, in that one moment, distracted, and yelled at me in anger." She looked up to meet Will's gaze.
"I don't know if you've ever told anyone that," Will said. "But whatever the reason was, it's not your fault."
"I know," Julia said. "Really, I do. But I just want to know."
"I could tell you that there's no way ever to know," Will said. "But that would be a dick move."
Julia chuckled slightly. "Yeah, yeah that would be." She grew solemn. "I ended up in the hospital after the accident. Not for very long. And I went through the motions and talked to the police and found out about the other car. But nothing seemed to help, nothing gave me any sort of closure."
"What happened to the other car?" Will asked.
"There was only the driver," Julia explained. "He was texting a blew through a red light. He was texting. I think he's still in a coma."
A look of understanding crossed Will's face, but he said nothing.
"And so I came here," she continued. "And I told myself, no more of that. No more of what I used to be. And I'm okay with that, really I am, I feel like myself, in a way, that I never did before. But along with that, I don't know, it's stupid."
"Go on," Will encouraged her.
"When I was arguing with my parents about Dustin I thought I was arguing about my happiness. So I guess when I got here, it felt like my desire to be happy was the reason why they were gone, and so I told myself that I didn't deserve that."
Will looked concerned. "Didn't deserve what?" he asked.
"To be happy," Julia said, shaking her head. Will opened his mouth to say something but Julia stopped him. "No, let me get through this." Will nodded and let her continue. "But you know, that wore off eventually. And I became friends with you and Megan and Jack and Jacob. And despite how horrible it was when Jack was attacked, I felt like I could finally think about someone other than myself. But then the whole thing with Jacob happened. And the feeling of not deserving to be happy just came rushing back." Julia paused and thought for a moment. "But it was more than that. It just seemed like punishment for trying to be happy. So I pushed everyone away."
"All because you thought the universe was punishing you for trying to be happy?" Will asked.
Julia pondered. "Yes, and no," she said. "I mean, that's what it felt like, but I know that the universe isn't set on destroying my life. I don't know. I guess it was that feeling mixed with the fact that I knew if someone else set off a bombshell in my life, I didn't think I could take it."
Will nodded. "I see," he said.
"So, I really am sorry," Julia said. "You've been a really good friend to me, and I know you were just trying to help. I don't know why, but you were. And I was cruel. So, I am so sorry."
Will shook his head. "It's okay," he said. "Really, it is." After a pause, he asked, "What made you change?"
Julia smiled. "My mom, she left a letter for me. And long story short, she told me to be happy. So how could I deny her?"
Julia's own smile, however, faded. "You know, I haven't cried for them," she said.
Will looked up questioningly.
"I mean, I've cried about it," Julia said, half to herself. "But it's been out of shock or anger. And I cried when I got the letter. But I haven't cried out of grief. Not once. Not even at the funeral." She paused. "Maybe I'm not as good of a person as my mom thought."
Will got up from his chair and sat down on the bed next to Julia. "Don't ever think that," he said. "Because it's not true. Not in the slightest. People deal with grief in different ways. You're just figuring out your way."
"I guess that's what Eliza is supposed to help me do," Julia said thoughtfully.
"Eliza?" Will asked in surprise. "The school counselor?"
Julia nodded. "Yeah," she said. "I've been going every Monday. That's why I'm never around for my off period on Mondays."
The two sat in silence for a little while longer. "Why do you care so much?" Julia asked.
"What do you mean?" Will questioned.
"After Jacob, you kept an eye on me," Julia said. "You made sure I went to school, and I know you kept an eye on me even there. And I know you told Megan and Jack about what happened with Jacob. It's alright," Julia said as Will opened his mouth to defend himself. "It's probably good that you did. But I just want to know, why?"
Will looked at her, sighed, and got up from the bed. He went to his desk, dug around in a drawer, and brought out a single piece of paper. He handed it to her.
Julia looked at it. It was a picture of him, probably about ten, on the back of a girl who looked about 15. "Who is she?" Julia asked.
"She was my sister, Macy," Will said. Julia waited in silence for him to continue. "She was about six years older than me. You would have really liked her."
"What happened?" Julia asked gently.
"I was 11," Will said. "She was 16, almost 17. And she had a hard time in school and hated it there." Will stopped. "Sorry," he said. "It's still difficult, even now."
"You just listened to my sob story," Julia said. "I'm all ears. Don't worry about it."
"I came home from school one day, and," Will shook his head, "and I just found her. I didn't know what was going on, but I figured out pretty quickly that she wasn't moving, wasn't breathing. An ambulance came but there wasn't any use. She overdosed on pills."
"Oh my god," Julia said softly. "Will, I had no idea."
"You would be the only one," Will said scornfully. "Everyone in town talked about it. My parents couldn't stand it so we moved out here. But even that wasn't far enough for them. That's why they travel so much, to get away. But everyone in school had heard about it. No one talked about it, but they knew. They all know." Will sighed. "So that's why I cared. That's why I care. Because there wasn't someone there for her when she needed it. I didn't know what was going on with you, but I didn't want you to feel so lonely that there wasn't anyone you could turn to."
Julia put her hand over his. "Well, thank you," she said, truly meaning it. "Really, I am touched. It means a lot. And she was beautiful," Julia added, looking back at the picture. "I'm sure that despite what happened, she loved you."
Will looked at the picture too. "Yeah," he said. "I know she did." He got up, took the picture back from Julia and put it back in the desk. "Look, I'm sorry I kept calling you Jules," he said. "I didn't know."
"You know, it's okay, actually," Julia said. "I think my dad would have liked that someone still does."
"Well then, Jules," Will put emphasis on her shortened name and grinned, "I know it's late, but Tina's sounds really good right about now."
Julia smiled. "It does," she agreed. She checked the time on her phone. "But I really should be getting back. My uncle is probably wondering where I am. But," she added, "I know a couple of people who get off before lunch tomorrow. I bet that would be a great time to go."
Will smiled. "Yeah," he said. "I bet that would. Want a ride home?"
"That would be lovely," Julia said.
Will offered his hand to her and pulled her off of the bed. He led her back down to his car, and while the ride was silent, it was a content silence. They were both happy to be there.
"I'm really glad you told me," Will said as he pulled into Julia's driveway.
"Yeah, me too," Julia replied. "Oh, and congrats on winning your game. You guys are really good."
Will laughed. "Yeah, well, the pressure's on but it's fun. I hope you didn't just come so you could ambush me outside of the locker room."
"Well," Julia said with a cheeky grin.
Will laughed. "Yeah, yeah, don't burst my bubble, Jules."
"Oh, never," Julia said sarcastically.
Will laughed again then got quiet again.
"I guess I should go," Julia said. "I don't think my uncle expected me to be out this late." She unbuckled her seatbelt and reached for the door handle.
"Jules," Will said, stopping her. She looked back at him. "Julia," he said, more softly.
Julia opened her mouth to ask him what, but before she could he leaned over and kissed her softly on the mouth. It was only for a moment, but when he pulled away he kept his face right next to hers, both of their eyes were closed.
"I, uh," Will started to say as he started to pull away. Julia didn't give him time to say what he wanted to say, though. She leaned forward and kissed him back, her hand resting lightly on his collarbone.
When they had finally pulled away, Julia couldn't help but smile. Will smiled back, causing her to look down, slightly embarrassed. "I'll see you tomorrow, then," Julia said. She opened the door and got out of the car.
"Have a good night, Jules," Will said.
"You too, Will," Julia replied and she shut the door. She watched Will back out of the driveway and drive off before going inside. Rory was sitting half asleep on the couch when she came in, but woke up at the sound of the door.
"Long game?" he asked her.
"Uh, I went out with a friend after," she said. "Sorry I didn't tell you."
"It's fine," Rory said. He looked at her appraisingly. "Either it must have been some friend or you should go to more soccer games. You look happy."
Julia gave a small smile to herself. "Good night," she said, and left Rory to go to her room.