Time in Willow Creek: 4 months, 2 days
The days turned into weeks, and those weeks into months. Juliana loved her new life, but at night, she cried. She longed to see her mother again and would have given anything just to hear her voice. But, she kept it all to herself. She didn’t want Harriett to worry about her more than she already did.
The Simlish lessons were going great. Juliana could respond to simple questions and could hold a basic conversation. Her pronunciation of some words improved as well. In the library, she graduated from “see spot run” and Dr. Suess to books like Corduroy, and, Goodnight, Moon. Juliana had much much more to learn, but she had already learned a great deal over the past few months. Harriett felt more comfortable letting her be more independent, so she didn’t make her stay at the library so much. They still had lessons each day, but not as many. The first thing Harriett did to reward Juliana’s hard work was give Hillary some money to take her shopping. She didn’t buy much, but she appreciated the gesture.
In her free time, she painted at the library. There was an easel at home on the upper back deck that no one used, but she preferred being closer to Harriett; Harold still made her uncomfortable.
One Saturday morning, Juliana came downstairs for breakfast and caught the end of this conversation:
“I don’t like it, mama! I don’t like it one bit!”
“Well, sugar pie, I think it’s a great idea!”
“Why? Why do you think it’s a good idea? She doesn’t even know him! You know how he is. And you say that I’m going to corrupt her? Ha!”
“I know he thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow, but I think he just needs to meet the right girl.”
“He’s a dog, mama!”
“Every dog has a few fleas. Besides…he’s your brother! Don’t say things like that about him.”
“Good morning,” Juliana said wondering what was the fuss was about.
“Mornin, puddin’! You want some pancakes?”
“Ok.” Juliana didn’t like the look of this situation. Hillary looked upset, and Harriett tried to pretend everything was fine. “What is wrong?”
“Oh, nothing,” Hillary said with sarcasm. “Mama here just wants to pawn you off on my stupid brother, that’s all.”
“What that means?”
“What does that mean, Juliana,” Harriett corrected. “The right question is what does that mean.”
“Sorry. What does that mean?”
“Have you ever been on a date?”
“What is date?”
“You know, like going out with a boy.”
“Would you like to go out with my son?”
“Your son?” Although Juliana had never met Axel, she was inclined to trust Harriett. If Harriett thought it was a good idea, she was ok with it.
“Yes, my son. His name is Axel. He’s a bit older than you, but he’s still young. I think he might like you.”
“Seriously, Juliana,” Hillary yelled, startling Juliana. “You’ve never even met him!”
“It’s ok,” Juliana said. “In my country, parents choose date. It’s ok.”
“Well…I’m not letting you go with him by yourself! We’ll double date. I’ll bring Jase along.”
“That’s fine with me. I just want them to meet. I think Juliana should meet all of our family. Rebecca’s kids are just a little bit younger than she is. Maybe they can be friends.”
“Mama…’friends’ and ‘Rebecca’s children’ should never be in the same sentence.”
Two days later, Juliana found herself getting ready for her first date. She was excited and scared at the same time. She didn’t know what Axel was like and why Hillary was so strongly against it. Juliana was used to older people making decisions for her. Where she came from, girls took orders from their parents until they were married. Although Juliana was 18 and was considered to be an adult, she would still be considered to be a child in her mother’s eyes until a man came and took her away. Although Harriett was not her mother, she was a mother figure, and Juliana trusted her and her judgment. She didn’t know what to expect from this night, but she hoped it turned out well–whatever that meant. Juliana decided to wear that other outfit her mother packed for her. She didn’t have much makeup either–just a simple, light eye color and lip gloss.
“Juliana,” Harriett called from the other side of Juliana’s bedroom door.
“Yes? Come in.”
“Oh, look at you! Ain’t you just the cutest thing! Axel is here. Are you ready to go?”
“Ok,” Juliana with nerves.
“Don’t worry about anything. I’ll make sure he’s on his best behavior. If you don’t understand, just say so. You’ll be fine! Just have fun.”
“Axel, this is Juliana. You take good care of her!”
“Uh huh. So you’re the one I’m babysitting tonight, huh?” He winked at her. “Looks like I’m babysitting all the kids. Don’t worry, mama…they’ll be back and in bed by 10.”
“Axel! You better behave! She’s not one of your two-bit floozies!”
“Whatever, mama. Come along, children.”
Hillary called Jase as they were leaving so he could make it to The Blue Velvet on time. From the moment they piled into the car until they arrived at the bar and throughout the entire so-called date, Axel was very unpleasant. Everyone–even Jase–was uncomfortable with his behavior.
“So…Juliana…you’re my mama’s charity case, huh? Still thinks she’s doing her ‘Christian’ duty?”
“Axel! Mama said to be nice!”
“Oh…I’ll be real nice to her later on, know what I’m sayin?” He put his elbow in Jase’s ribs.
“Don’t you dare!”
“Nah. She don’t look like the type. She look like a nice girl. Are you a nice girl, Juliana?”
Juliana didn’t know what to do. She heard what he was saying, and the words made sense, but the look in his eye, tone of his voice, and mortification on everyone else’s faces told her that he wasn’t asking if she was a kind, polite, and friendly girl. She looked to Hillary for help, but Hillary couldn’t control her brother. Jase was too mortified to say anything.
“Where is the bathroom?” she asked Hillary.
“Thank you.” Juliana got up and pretended to go to the bathroom. She just needed to get away from Axel.
He got up and went to the dance floor just as Juliana was heading upstairs and was intercepted by an acquaintance. “Hey, Axe. Who’s that sad little school girl you’re with?”
“Girl, please. You know that’s not me.”
“I saw her come in with you and your sister! You going soft now?”
“There is not a soft bone in my body. My mama made me take her out.”
“Ohhhhh, so you’re doing charity work now?”
“You know I can’t say no to my mama!”
Juliana went upstairs to the bathroom to catch her breath and gather herself. She wanted the evening to end at that very moment and wondered why Harriett would suggest such a thing. When she felt her strength returning, she went back downstairs. Hillary and Jase had gone to the bar, and Axel was back at the table.
“Welcome back. You didn’t have to go get freshened up for me though. I know this isn’t a real date, but I appreciate the gesture.”
It was good she didn’t understand him. Or, maybe it was bad. If she did understand him, maybe she could have done something or said something to defend herself. But, he kept on messing with her. “…however…I should be paid for my time. Get my meaning? You know what I’m missing by being out here with you?” He extended his hand to her knee.
She swatted at his hand. “NO.”
“I know, I know, you’re a nice girl. But you’re gonna have to grow up sometime, baby!” He tried to put the moves on her again, but she wasn’t having it. “Come on, Juliana! At least give me a little sugar.”
“NO! Leave me alone!”
“Man, forget you, little prude! With your fake accent! I bet you’re from around the corner somewhere…taking advantage of my folks! Forget you!”
Juliana didn’t understand why this was happening to her. Jase and Hillary were right at the next table the entire time. When they returned from the bar, Hillary saw someone she knew and sat down to talk at the adjacent table. She just happened to sit in a chair with her back to Juliana and Axel and missed that whole exchange. She turned around just as Juliana began to cry.
“What on earth did you do to her??”
“She’s a baby. I don’t do babies.”
“GOD!!! I TOLD mama this wasn’t gonna work. I told her!” Hillary grabbed Juliana and attempted to console her. “JASE…JASE…WE’RE LEAVING!”
He looked over and saw her holding Juliana. “What happened? Is she ok?”
“Does she look ok, Jase?? Call us a cab, please!”
Jase took care of the transportation while Hillary held sobbing Juliana. “I’m sorry, Juliana! I’m so sorry!”
Within 10 minutes, the cab arrived, and the three friends left Axel sitting at the table alone. Juliana was a bit more consoled, but definitely not ok. She was just glad to be out of Axel’s presence.
“Mama is going to KILL me!”
“Why? You didn’t do anything.”
“I was supposed to look out for her! How come you didn’t see her? You couldn’t see her from where you were sitting??”
“Not with all those people in the way! That place was packed!”
“I’m supposed to bring back a happy Juliana, and I’m bringing back a broken one!”
The car stopped in front of Umbrage Manor, and both girls got out. They came back a lot earlier than Harriett expected. She was washing dishes when they came in.
“Go on to your room. I’ll be up there in a minute,” Hillary said to Juliana.
“What’s the matter with her?”
“YOU did this, mama! You did this!”
“Well, what happened? Will she be all right?”
“I don’t know, mama. No thanks to your precious son!”
Hillary and Juliana disappeared into Juliana’s room. A confused Harriett tapped on the door.
Juliana was mortified and buried herself under the covers. “Go!”
“But, I just wanna know what happened!”
“She doesn’t want to talk to you, mama! Go away!”