“But she’s our Jules,” Tommy said brokenly. “She’s our glue.”
I have never received as many angry emails as I did after the end of “The Unthinkable”.
I loved it. I truly never realized how many people loved her and followed the story. It was like a wake up call for me to know that what I was writing mattered to some people.
Ending a book with killing Julie off was a calculated risk- even though it wasn’t real. Everyone thought it would be Stephanie or Tess, and when they were found, although critical, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Then came the shock.
Not Julie. She is the glue.
I’ve been struggling with Julie’s character sketch because she is hard to characterize.
Julie is perhaps the most challenging character for me to write. It’s strange, but sometimes I’m surprised by what she does and how she reacts. I think I get frustrated a lot with her and there are times she feels the most real to me. I tend to look at Julie in two different ways, or two different personas. There is the Julie who lost her parents as a 12 year old and became the glue to her ‘brothers’ and the Julie who is married to Bill. They aren’t that different, and I find a lot of Julie’s personality to be a mesh of those events.
Julie was always a ‘tomboy’. She struggled to be feminine even when her parents were alive and she wanted desperately to be liked by her brother. She adored Tommy and always ached for the kind of friendship he found with Jack. She was jealous and proud and annoying and inspiring to Tommy and he was never able to really verbalize what she meant to him. At least until the accident.
Julie has a strength that is inspiring to me. It’s one thing to survive the loss of her parents, but the way she took it upon herself to hold Tommy and Jack together was incredible.
One of my favorite flashbacks of Julie was right after the accident.
Jack walked into Tommy’s house and saw Julie sitting there, wearing her dad’s coat and holding her mom’s purse. He walked over to the 12 year old and sat down. “Hey pumpkin,” he said and she lifted her tear stained face at him.
“Hi,” she whispered.
“What are you doing sitting here like this?”
“I needed a hug from my daddy. His coat smells like him and mom’s purse was always with her, so I’m holding it. She would never leave it, so I thought maybe she would come back and get it. I’m just waiting here.”
Jack wiped his eyes and sighed. “Where’s your brother?”
“Upstairs. He told me to leave him alone for a while,” she snuggled into the huge coat.
“Are you going over to Mrs. Hodgens tonight?” he referred to her good friend’s mom, who had been helping since the accident three days ago.
Julie shook her head. “I don’t want to. I just want to stay here.”
Jack smoothed her hair and nodded. “I think it will be good if the three of us are together tonight.”
“You’ll stay with us?” she asked hopefully.
“I live here now, don’t I?” he smiled.
“I just figured that would change now, too.”
He hugged her tightly. “Not a chance,” he stood up and wiped her cheek. “I’m going to talk to your brother. Will you be okay for a few minutes?”
She snuggled into the coat and nodded. “Thanks Jack.”
He smiled and walked upstairs to find Tommy. He saw him sitting on the floor in the hallway, his head in his hands.
“Hey, Tommy,” he said as he walked up.
Tommy stood up and wiped his face. “Is Julie okay? I just needed a minute.”
Jack nodded. “She’s fine. What’s going on with you?”
Tommy shrugged. “Just trying to go over the funeral plans. Who would have thought burying someone would be so expensive,” he walked into the master bedroom and crossed his arms. “I’m supposed to bring clothes over for them to wear.”
Jack walked in front of him. “Isn’t there anyone else who can do this? What about one of their friends?”
Tommy ran his hand through his hair. “What do you suggest I do? Call a friend and ask them to dress my dead parents and figure out what they would have wanted at their double funeral? Should I ask them how I am supposed to figure out what bills to pay and what to do with their things? Should I mow the lawn or is there a company to do that? Do I keep their things or pack everything up like it meant nothing? Do I stay in school or quit and work full time? Do I sell the car or the house? Should I go grocery shopping?” he rambled as he walked through the room and picked up his mom’s book which sat on the nightstand. He threw it across the room and then picked up the alarm clock, ripping it out of the wall and throwing it as well.
“What the fuck am I supposed to do?” he screamed. “I’m 18 years old. How could this happen?”
Jack went to say something when they turned around and saw Julie standing there, tears streaming down her face.
Tommy walked to her and she crossed her arms. “Are you going to send me away?”
He sat down on the floor and put his head in his hands. Jack looked at him and then at Julie.
“Do you want to live with someone else?” Tommy asked her.
She looked at him and then she looked at Jack. “I thought we were family.”
Tommy wiped his face. “We are family, but Jules, you need to be taken care of. How can I do that?”
She began to cry and Jack walked closer and smiled. “Maybe we do it together?”
Tommy and Julie looked at him. “What do you mean?”
He sat down. “Well, I see it like this. My mom died last year and my dad ran off. You all took me in like I was family and made me keep going. It wasn’t because you had to, but because we fit together as a family. What happened to your parents is horrific and devastating, but maybe this past year was meant to show us that we are able to get through the worst. I know it’s unconventional, and we will probably have to figure a lot of things out, but I think we can do this. I think we can make sure you both stay together.”
Tommy looked at his best friend. “Jack, this is your life. You can’t put everything on hold and be a parent with me. How can we raise a girl?”
Julie snorted. “I’m right here and I don’t need to be raised. You know, I just might be good for both of you. Maybe there is a thing or two you can learn from me.”
Tommy and Jack smiled at her. “What could you teach us?”
Julie sat down and looked at the two most important people in her world. “I know that mom has all of the documents for the house and the bills in the top box in the closet. I know daddy used his friend Bobby’s son’s lawn service for the summer and there is a letter mommy wrote that tells us what she wanted done in the event something happened to her or daddy. It’s in the box in the bottom of her dresser.”
Tommy was shocked. “How do you know all of this?”
“Sometimes a mother tells her daughter things she doesn’t tell her son. I know I’m only 12, but I will do whatever I can to be good and I want to stay with you two. Please let me stay with you both,” she cried.
Jack looked at Tommy and they both smiled.
“What a messed up family,” Tommy said.
“But it’s our family.”
Julie looked at them and moved to hug them both. “I miss them so much. I don’t want to miss you, too.”
The three sat there for hours, talking and laughing and becoming the family they needed to be, and more importantly, the family they already were.
I loved this because it showed that although she was young, Julie wasn’t simply a burden to be cared for. She could help the boys just as much as she needed help and she brought a dynamic to the story that was desperately needed.
I think Julie is one of the strongest characters I’ve written. As a child, it’s clear why, but as an adult, I found a strength within her that surprised me.
Being a military spouse is one of the hardest jobs out there. I can never comprehend the fear one must feel not knowing if your spouse is okay; where they are and when they might come home. Julie’s strength comes from a lot of places, but her love for her husband is one of the strongest.
I think I’ve said this before, but I intended to introduce Bill in book 3 “Love Endures” strictly through flashbacks. I was going to have him die overseas and we would learn his story from Julie’s perspective through flashbacks. I had no intention of making him Brittany’s brother or bringing him into the series in any concrete way.
I’ll elaborate more on that if I write Bill’s sketch, (if you want to read it), but I bring it up now because Julie wouldn’t let me do that. She demanded he come home and I had to listen.
She deserved it. She had been through so much loss in her young life and I know, in real life, Bill would never have made it home. In fiction, I could give her that miracle.
I’m so glad I did because without him, so much would have been different.
Back to the end of The Unthinkable.
There is no character in the series who has as profound an effect on everyone like Julie.
She is the reason the family exists.
She is the strength.
She is the humor.
She is the heart.
So what the hell was I thinking by killing her off?
I wasn’t. I wanted to shake things up and I needed a strong way to do it.
Julie did that. She brought so many emotions to the forefront of each character.
It enabled me to write the fallout with every character.
It also helped to show a vulnerability to Julie that I had been wanting for a while.
She was deeply affected by what happened and her fear was evident in little ways. She didn’t want to be left alone. She worried about being in the hospital. She had a few panic attacks.
For someone always in control, this was heartbreaking for her.
It was also very normal and understandable. I wanted her to heal along with Bill. I also wanted to bring in another helper.
She needed them and her history mirrored Julie’s. She was a perfect fit.
There are parts of Julie that come from me.
Her love of Jelly donuts is all me.
Her being a teacher is also me and in “Red” we explore that again.
Her tenacity and fire come from all of the strong women I have been lucky to know.
I try to balance Julie’s present life with her past. I love writing the flashbacks to her growing up and figuring out how to balance her life with two boys raising her.
A few of my favorite flashback are when she got her period and when she needed her first bra.
I loved her bringing Bill home for the first time and when she wanted to start on birth control.
But one of my favorite parts of Julie are her children.
One of my most profound moments for Julie was making her pregnant with triplets. I thought of all of the humor in her having, as Tommy called it, a ‘litter’. I thought of the funny moments with Bill and how amazing it would be to see three babies.
When Bill was shot and in such dire shape, I began to see a new direction for Julie and her pregnancy. I knew what it would do to her to lose the babies and I knew what it would do to Bill. It was also important to keep some reality in the story.
Julie losing the two little boys began another arc I wanted to show.
Her kidney issues were going to flare up and the loss of the boys was a catalyst to revealing some serious medical issues.
One of my favorite moments after the miscarriage was when Bill said the following:
She exhaled and kissed his chest as he spoke. “I also think it’s why we were given the blessing of our two boys.”
She looked up at him, her eyes swimming.
“The doctors said that because of them, your kidney issues flared up. If not, you could have died and we would never have had the chance to save you. They were sent here to make sure you made it. They were the ultimate gift to us. They gave us the gift of time and even though they had to leave, I will never lose sight of the blessing they were. They gave me back my wife and I can’t put into words what that means.”
Julie is a fighter. She will get in your face and defend those she loves until her last breath. She is vulnerable and insecure, but she has a quiet strength that takes people by surprise.
Not those who know her.
There are so many stories I have to tell about Julie. I have more flashbacks in my head than I have time to write and I can’t wait for you to see what she does next.
Some ‘Julie’ rules to live by:
Always talk it out.
A jelly donut solves any issue.
What you see is what you get.