Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 9 months, 3 weeks, 4 days
Juliana fretted about being on her own the night Trish quit. Sleep evaded her again, leaving her head to fill with worry. Trish’s presence did more harm than good, yet Juliana found herself wishing the night would have gone differently despite knowing it was a good thing. She anticipated life being terrible and feeling worse than before Trish’s untimely departure. Surely she’d scream “Uncle” after a few days. She didn’t want to do it on her own and needed help. To her surprise, life did not take a turn for the worst. The next morning, and every morning thereafter, Juliana woke up feeling awesome and ready to take on the day. She felt free as if she had been released from prison. The dark cloud which followed her dispersed and the sun’s brilliant rays filled the sky again. Life was beautiful.
The smile she wore became part of her uniform; she couldn’t take it off if she tried. It stayed with her even when she got flustered because too many people demanded her attention at once. The smile widened every time she considered how far the effects of Trish’s absence reached. The library patrons felt it too and commented on how much friendlier the place felt once they learned the wicked witch was dead. They exhibited patience and gave Juliana the grace she needed to get through her days.
Kevin continued to amaze her by finding new ways to shower her with affection. Each night, he arrived at closing time with two take-out boxes. The first time, Juliana was speechless and overwhelmed by the display of love. Happy tears erupted from her eyes as she sprang into his arms. She knew he loved her. It wasn’t new information. But, every time she experienced his love in a new way, it caught her off guard. She never experienced that kind of love and not because she had never dated before. The kind of love he showed her she had only seen on TV and read in books. Kevin’s love was intuitive, tenacious and thoughtful. Her parents loved each other dearly, but not like this. Did she and Kevin have something special? Or, was it another American thing? Whatever it was, she could hardly believe it happened to her.
Sometimes, after Kevin’s own long days of work, he would have Chinese food delivered to the library ahead of his arrival. Other nights were more creative and romantic; he made her feel so special. The first of these special nights, he arrived about a half hour before closing time with several large bags in his hands. One of the bags contained dinner. Savory goodness emanated from it and filled the air as he rushed past her. She tried to follow him upstairs and help with the bags, but he urged her to stay downstairs and not come up until he called for her. Above her head, tables and chairs scraped across the floor and she wondered what he was up to. Good thing people rarely used the upstairs part of the library. She tried to take a peek from the bottom of the stairs, but she couldn’t see and gave up. People in the computer room wrapped up their sessions before she kicked them out, and other stragglers finally checked out their books. They took up enough time to keep her mind off the bustle upstairs. Once everyone had gone, she locked the doors. Kevin came downstairs, took her hand and led her to the surprise. He had the lights off, and she wondered what awaited her besides the savory goodness that flooded her nostrils the closer they got. A hint of chocolate excited her sweet tooth. Atop the stairs, she stood with her mouth gaped frozen in her tracks. Kevin stepped around her and pulled out a chair. Candles burned inside fancy bottles. A single rose stood tall in a narrow vase. Shiny glasses filled with red wine sparkled in the light of the flames. The savory goodness that taunted her laid on white, porcelain plates: salmon. Off to the side, she could have more if she wanted. Last but not least, a warm brownie on a gorgeous platter begged for her attention. Kevin outdid himself. How did she get so lucky?
After dinner, they got to work. He gathered the books from the book drop, and she checked them in. Then, he walked around, putting scattered books back and tidied up the shelves. Luckily for her, he was a Neat Nick too. When all the books were checked in, they put them away. She loved how they could still spend time together even while working, but how long could they go on that way? Once the high of being free of Trish wore off, would she burn herself out? She had youth on her side, but how long could she burn the candles at both ends? As much as she loved how Kevin stepped in, she needed help. Permanent help.
One night, Kevin announced he finally heard from the zoning board. Their petition had been approved, and the land had been officially re-classified as an art gallery. With the construction complete, and only landscaping and furniture needed, they could finally consider opening! Because they both had full-time jobs they intended to keep, he thought it would be best if they hired a staff to run the place for them. Naturally, they would spend a lot of time there anyway, but the day to day operations would belong to someone else. Juliana liked the idea and admitted having concerns about potentially having two jobs. She asked if she could come to the interviews to learn and observe for when she felt prepared to hire her own staff. Of course, Kevin intended for her to come so they could meet her and understand what they were getting into.
After getting the word out, Kevin received a few applications and commenced the interviewing process. Juliana enjoyed seeing a bit of vulnerability in him when he disclosed he had never been in the position to hire anyone and was a little bit nervous. His goal, however, was to simply have a conversation and feel the candidates out. He did want them to know a thing or two about art, but he wanted people who were passionate like them and would treat their business as their own. Art galleries in that area were small places and typically not crowded unless large parties such as school groups flooded it. Even still, they didn’t require much managing. One person could manage it just fine, and two would be perfect. In order to give the staff the relief it needed, and not bleed Kevin dry, he decided three people would be enough to start. He would have to fund the salaries until the gallery began making money, so Juliana suggested he speak with her accountant so he wouldn’t have to worry about payroll. Although Kevin met him previously, he was impressed with his services, and Mr. Maynard was glad to have the opportunity to serve them again.
The day of the interviews came finally, and Keviana was nervous and excited. They wanted to have them all in one day so the process wouldn’t be dragged out. Interviewing on a Sunday was odd, but all the candidates understood Juliana’s work schedule and most were relieved they wouldn’t have to take time off their current jobs.
The first person of the day was Karli Forbes.
She had one of those smiles that lit up a room, and Juliana loved her look and felt the professionalism she displayed was genuine. Although she didn’t have the art background Kevin wanted, Karli had everything else and more. She had managed businesses most of her career and started out managing a tiny office. Then, she moved out of the corporate arena to restaurants. Being a creative person at heart, she wanted to be involved in something she could be passionate about. Restaurants did it for a while, but when she saw the advertisement for the art gallery, she knew she had to apply.
“I felt…I felt connected, you know? Like, something inside me caught on fire! I hope that doesn’t sound crazy.”
Kevin looked fondly at Juliana. She was glad he felt the same way she did.
“That’s not crazy at all. We plan to supplement the income from art sales by renting the place out for events. How comfortable are you with coordinating events?”
Karli’s face beamed. “You know…I always knew I should be an event planner. I just never knew how to get started. I’ve been planning parties my whole life! Nothing to this scale, of course, but all the mechanics are still there.”
Juliana smiled. Was there anything this woman couldn’t do?
“I love your confidence. Now, to be more specific, here’s what we’re going to need. We’ll want to put together packages, so initially, we’ll need to find reputable businesses to work with like caterers, florists, etc. I’m a good negotiator, so we can work together on that, but those kinds of things are an immediate need and what we will be looking for from the manager.”
“I can handle it,” Karli said confidently.
Juliana didn’t have any questions for her, and Kevin had a few more particulars to go over. After shaking hands and seeing her out, they looked at each other in amazement. They had a winner on the first interview, no doubt, and hoped the rest of the day would be as profitable.
The next candidate was not as awesome as Karli. As a matter of fact, he was a zero. His name was Nathan Yoon, and they were both turned off by his unprofessional appearance and lack of interest in art. To make matters, worse, he creeped out Juliana with all the not-so-subtle flirting. Needless to say, the interview was very short.
The next candidate was only a step above the sleazy jerk. Her name was Vivienne York. She was another who was neither dressed to impress nor versed in the subject. When asked about her history with art, she went on and on about water colored ponies she would paint for her mother to hang on the refrigerator door. Kevin asked the question in multiple ways to gather if she had any other experience, but that was all she gave them. He also seemed to be disappointed that she hadn’t held a job for longer than five months. The last straw was her increased enthusiasm for the potential salary. Kevin had not disclosed how much he would be paying them, but she had ideas of her own.
“People who work in art galleries typically make a lot of money, right?”
The interview wasn’t as short as they wanted, but Kevin ended it as soon as he saw an opportunity.
He must have noticed the discouragement on Juliana’s face. “Don’t worry. I know it feels like we’re losing, but it’s ok. We don’t have to find them all today. It’s not like we’re opening tomorrow. We can take our time and find the right people.”
Juliana nodded. He was always so encouraging and unflappable.
The next woman was stunning. Juliana’s posture stiffened as she sashayed into the room. Kevin introduced himself, and Juliana should have smiled and done the same, but all the words seemed to flee from her mouth. The woman had long, black hair that looked like silk and framed her smooth, caramel face perfectly. Her eyes were like two chocolate covered almonds and her legs as long as the river. Not only was she beautiful, but also she had great style. She certainly knew how to make her outfit pop. Juliana would never have thought to wear a peach jacket on top of white and blue stripes. The woman’s long legs poured out of the dress into a pair of amazing shoes Juliana only ever dreamed of wearing. Liliana Harmon was her name, and she reminded her of an actress back home she used to idolize.
She was perfect and made Juliana feel so inadequate. As she looked at Liliana’s legs, she thought about her own thick legs she hid as much as possible. Liliana was so thin and shapely. Juliana’s thighs had gotten more difficult to fit in pants, and her chubby cheeks made her appear bigger than she really was. What if they hired her? Would Kevin find her more attractive? What if she were one of those evil women who went around destroying perfectly good relationships? When Kevin introduced her, Liliana seemed overly excited about them being in a relationship. That could have been part of her act and the beginning of the sabotage.
“So, tell us about you and art.”
“Well, I’ve always been an artist, even as a child. I drew pictures and entered art contests. I even enrolled in art school. I got married, and we had children pretty quickly so I decided to put school on pause.”
Juliana was glad to hear she had a husband and children. Perhaps she wasn’t a threat to her after all. Still, she remained guarded.
“But, then…” Liliana’s eyes puffed up, but she took a deep breath and choked back whatever tried to overtake her. “My husband died recently. He had life insurance, so we’re not in desperate need, but I want to save that money for my boys to go to college when the time comes. So…yeah.” She tried to smile. “I feel pretty lucky this opportunity came up seeing as how I don’t have my degree yet. I mean, I’m not assuming you’re going to hire me, of course, but art jobs are so scarce. I feel lucky for one to pop-up in my own town just minutes from my house!”
Juliana felt terrible for how she judged her. The one thing her mother harped on the most was judging others. Such a slippery slope it was, and she had slid down quite quickly. She shed a few tears as the disappointment set in. Kevin and Liliana probably assumed she was moved by the story. Good thing because she didn’t want to tell him about the awful thoughts she had about their potential employee.
The last candidate of the day was Nickolas Brinkley, and he looked familiar.
“Picasso?” he said to her.
It was him: the nameless man who never joined the art club. She didn’t recognize him without the hat.
“Where’ve you been hiding, young lady?”
They all laughed.
“My job. I’ve been very busy.”
He looked around the place. “I see! You’ve been doing big things.”
“It’s nice to meet you…formally.”
“You didn’t know Nick?”
She shrugged. “I never knew his name, but we spoke a few times.”
“Yeah…she painted my picture on the sly too.”
They shared another laugh. It felt good to have a bond with one of the candidates. Even though she didn’t know him personally, she knew he was serious, and Kevin did too. She could tell from his line of questioning his art background didn’t need to be discussed. He was just making sure he’d be a good fit as an employee.
By the time interviews were over, it was dark outside. They spent the entire day getting to know people in hopes of getting their business off the ground. Although Kevin said they didn’t need to find all three people in one day, Juliana was fairly certain three of the candidates would work and hoped Kevin felt the same way.