Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 6 months, 1 week, 1 day
The following evening, Juliana relaxed in her room again feeling slightly better than the previous night. Against her better judgment, she went to work. Things had not changed, not that she expected them to. Trish got up to the same tricks, coming up with more reasons why she couldn’t do her job and piling more work on Juliana. She regretted not taking Kevin’s advice immediately. He was right. She did need rest and even a proper time and space to grieve. Bereavement was a concept she hadn’t learned yet. It’s not like there was an employee manual to read.
Similarly to the previous night, a polite knock interrupted her solitude. Her happy heart leaped at the sound of it, and she grinned as she arose to open the door. His visits were not rare and always welcomed, but since becoming official, she appreciated them even more. On the other side of the door, she saw that familiar smile she loved to see and thought it was wonderful she didn’t need to hide how happy he made her anymore.
“Hi,” she said with a toothy grin.
For some reason, she felt a bit nervous. This girlfriend business intimidated her. Were there rules she didn’t know about? Did he expect anything from her? He said things didn’t have to change, but how could they not? They were different individuals. Everything was changing.
He opened his arms, and she accepted the embrace. His body was so warm and comfortable. Inhaling his sweet, musky scent on purpose was such a treat; the days of sneaking whiffs were over. He had held her so many times, but that hug was different. It felt intentional and deep, and the love he had for her was apparent.
He pulled away and said, “Go sit. I have a gift for you.”
His voice was calm, but his smile didn’t match. Excitement exuded from every pore and she wondered what he was up to. When she did not obey immediately, he shooed her away. She chuckled and did as she was told. Once seated, he leaned backward, stuck his head out the door and motioned for someone to come in. A flash of panic zinged through Juliana’s body, and her eyes shot open. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to see anyone else that night, but when the first person crossed the threshold, she changed her mind and appreciated what her boyfriend had done.
She dashed to Paul. Happy tears ran down her cheeks as she threw her arms around him. “Oh! What a surprise!”
“It’s good to see you, kid,” he said.
He pulled away, stood next to the dresser and someone else took his place.
“Coleen,” she shouted and embraced her with the same enthusiasm.
“Hey, Juliana! I’ve missed you.”
“I missed you too!”
She also pulled away and sat on the bed. Juliana caught onto what Kevin had done and figured Camden would walk through the door next, and he did.
“Howdy, young lady,” he said.
She wasn’t as close to him as the others, but she appreciated his presence just the same. “Hello, Camden.”
They hugged quickly, and he stood in the other corner of the room. All the art club members were accounted for, and she expected Kevin to come in but he remained outside. Who else was out there? Juliana wanted to shriek like a 14-year-old when she crossed the threshold. Instead, she attacked her with a hug.
“Whoa,” Selina said. “I’m not sure I’m worth this.” She chuckled.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” Juliana said. She broke away and turned to the rest of her guests. “I can’t believe you’re all here!”
She wiped tears as she made her way to the bed and sat. Coleen had gotten up and joined the others.
Kevin finally came in and wrapped his arm around her waist. “Are you ok?”
She laughed. “I’m so happy!”
He smiled, pressed his lips against her cheek and set her heart ablaze. “They’ve been asking about you. And, when I saw you last night…well, I thought you could use a little pick me up.”
“Since you haven’t been able to come to art club, we brought the art club to you,” Coleen said.
“Thank you. I’m so glad to see all of you…. I don’t know what to say!”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Camden said.
Paul and his wife came to Harriett’s funeral. The rest of them hadn’t seen her since the last time they gathered.
“If you ever need to get out of the house, just call me,” Selina said. “We can go tag some sidewalks or something.”
Kevin didn’t let her go all night. Every now and then, he gave her a gentle squeeze or wiped falling tears letting her know he was there for her. She tried not to make too much eye contact with Selina and couldn’t tell how being in close quarters with Kevin affected her. Whether she was ok or not, surely the PDA made her uncomfortable. Every time he showed his affections, Coleen grinned like the Cheshire Cat and clapped her hands quietly. Camden was indifferent. Paul just chuckled and nodded. He was also the only one bold enough to say anything.
“It’s about time y’all got together. Y’all been dancing around each other for, like, nine years!”
“I know,” Kevin said. “It was my fault.”
“We know,” Paul said.
Everyone laughed again.
“It’s getting late,” he said. “I think we ought to give these lovebirds some space.”
Juliana knew they needed to leave at some point but wished they could have stayed a little longer. Most of them lived in Windenburg and needed to get on the road.
“I am so happy you came to see me,” she said to the group. “I don’t know when I will return, but I hope soon.”
She hugged everyone, they said their goodbyes, and she saw them out. She and her boyfriend stood on the porch and watched them go. When they all disappeared, she turned to Kevin. She couldn’t stop smiling.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better,” he said.
She could have said so many things, but she could only focus on how she felt. Experiencing Kevin in that way allowed her to recognize her feelings. When he was near, she always felt something she was afraid to name. That little twinge in her heart. That warmth. It was love. She wasn’t ready to verbalize it yet, but she could show him.
She stepped closer and held his hands. “Thank you,” she said.
“You know I’d do anything for you…especially if it makes you smile.”
He stepped closer and placed his hands around her shoulders. She was so nervous. Were they about to do what she thought they were going to do? If so, where did her hands go? It felt weird to leave them dangling by her side, so she raised her arms until her hands found a comfortable place to be–just barely touching his waist. She hoped it was ok.
He looked at her in a way he never looked at her before. No one had ever looked at her that way. That’s when she knew for certain her first kiss was about to happen. She breathed a bit heavier, and her heart pounded so hard she swore he could hear it too. Was she ready for this? For more? She wasn’t sure, but there was only one way to find out.
She felt so self-conscious and wanted to look away, but she couldn’t. The thirsty look in his dilated eyes made her even more nervous yet drew her in. Should this be happening? Was it too fast? She wondered those things, but she didn’t stop him.
She became hyper focused on his lush lips. After all, they would be touching hers in a matter of seconds. Her mouth went dry, and she felt like she couldn’t speak, not that she wanted or needed to. She knew his lips were soft for they had been all over her face that night. She hoped her lips were favorable to him.
His face came closer to hers quicker than she imagined it would, and she panicked inside. What if she wasn’t a good kisser? How should she do it? As if he saw a green light in her eyes, he came toward her even faster, and she closed her eyes and prepared for impact. He was so close, she could feel his warm breath on her lips as they heard a loud rapping at the window. It startled them both so much they jumped and whisked their heads toward the sound. Hilary was at the window shouting and waving her arms.
“Is he your boyfriend NOW?? Good Lord! It’s about doggone time!!”
She was so embarrassed and wondered if that was how her best friend from home felt like when her mother caught her kissing a boy under a tree.
“I should probably go,” he said.
She didn’t want him to go, but it was probably for the best. She had kissed Kevin many times in her dreams. Finally having that chance only for it to be stolen irritated her a little, but she was relieved. It was so unexpected, and she wasn’t prepared. But, now she knew kissing was definitely on the table and could happen at any time. The next he went for it, although she would probably be nervous then too, she’d be ready.