Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 9 months, 4 weeks
The number of words Juliana would need to thank Kevin for his kindness, attentiveness, understanding and love exceeded the number of words in her vocabulary. The library dates and his helping hands lightened the load on her mind and body. Still, something had to give. She didn’t work as late because of Kevin’s help, and her brain appreciated the extra hour or so it got to rest per night. But, sometimes she wanted to be at home in the evenings to curl up in bed with a book. She couldn’t remember the last time she played the piano or even painted, and with the gallery opening soon, she desperately needed to get on it. Changes needed to be made.
Previously, the library operated from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Until she hired more help, she changed the operating hours to Tuesday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It made a world of difference, and she felt like herself again.
One Saturday, Juliana straightened the study area upstairs, making sure it was tidy for the interviews she would conduct soon. As she came downstairs, she saw Harold standing there. A rush of happiness ran through her and almost knocked her over.
He looked at her, still grinning at whatever went on in his head. “How ya doin.”
She was so happy to see him, but if she showed it too much, he might have been startled and retreated to his hole.
“It’s nice to see you out,” she said as calm and normal as possible.
His mind still drifted. “It’s been a while…”
Juliana smiled. She could tell by the way he stood, looking out the window, he was in story mode again. Lately, he drifted in and out of random stories about him and Harriett, and she loved hearing about their former life together.
“Do you want to sit up there?”
They went upstairs. He had a faraway look in his eyes. Whatever this story would be, Juliana could tell it had been with him all morning and waited for it to begin.
“I ain’t never been kind like her. If it were proper, she would walk round here naked cuz she gave all her clothes away.” His shoulders bounced along with a hushed chuckle. “She wanted this old place something fierce. I didn’t know why she was so attached to it. She got all up in arms about it. I thought she were biting off more than she could chew, but…” he slouched forward and looked around. “We settin here right now.”
He sighed, got up, and went downstairs. She followed him. At the bottom of the stairs, he faced her again.
“Keep doin good.”
She smiled and nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Getting recognition from the family felt nice although she never expected it. Their indifference to the library, however, still puzzled her.
Kevin arrived at closing time to help her close up as usual. He had on his workout clothes, and somehow, seeing him dressed so casually made her consider the sacrifices he made for her. Almost two months had gone by since Trish quit, and during that period, Kevin had less time for his other friends and the usual things he did. Although he seemed to enjoy helping her, she felt bad and hoped she could make it up to him someday soon.
“Have you ever been rock climbing?”
She chuckled at the image that formed in her mind. She saw herself wearing several backpacks, scaling a rocky mountain and dangling on a rope.
“Oasis Springs Park has some machines now. I was gonna check it out. Wanna come?”
Oasis Springs did have rocks, but what were these machines he spoke of? She agreed hesitantly. Whatever it was, it had to be safe as she couldn’t imagine him inviting her to do something dangerous. When they finished closing up the library, she went home and changed. Then, she and her boyfriend made their way to the park. Hanging out with him while the sun still shined was so nice. She could spend the entire night with him or come back home to chill after. The life she used to have with options like that had become more of a distant memory.
As they walked in, she stole a few glances at his scantily clad body. Well, for someone who basically wore sports coats and slacks all the time, a sleeveless hoodie and shorts were basically scantily clad. She hadn’t realized how fit he was and wondered how often he worked out. She could tell by the way his clothes fit he had a nice shape under there, but his arms… No wonder his hugs were so amazingly tight.
The machines looked like large, vertical treadmills with plastic discs nailed to them; she was underwhelmed. No matter how disappointing they looked, she knew the workout was going to be intense, that was for sure. After Kevin explained the object of the workout, he showed her the different programs on the machine and let her pick one. Once she keyed everything in, up, up, up she went.
Climbing that wall was challenging. The “rocks” were sparsed randomly on the belt, so she couldn’t always place her feet in the same spot. Rock climbing was definitely not like climbing stairs. It required strength and strategy. She liked it, but it wasn’t something she could see herself doing over and over.
Her foot slipped once. She didn’t fall, but it made Kevin nervous. That was the reason he didn’t do his workout alongside her on the other machine. He wanted to catch her if she fell…or something. It was sweet.
A few other times, she did slip and dangled on the rocks just as she imagined when he asked her about rock climbing. She never knew how much upper-body strength she possessed; lugging stacks of books all night every night must have helped. Again, Kevin freaked out, but she got right back on it, and he was so proud of her. By the end of the workout, she was super proud of herself.
On Kevin’s turn, he put on a delightful show for her. She wasn’t sure if he was showing off or he was just enthusiastic, but he scaled that machine so fast, he looked like a monkey swinging in the trees.
As quickly as he went up, he came down. All the way down…to the ground…hard.
She checked on him to see if he was hurt, and he denied it. After taking a moment to get over the initial shock of pain, he got back on and finished the workout.
Afterward, they were hungry, and Kevin suggested going out to eat. She was sweaty, didn’t think she looked presentable, and did not want to be around many people. Kevin spent entirely too much money on take-out and restaurants anyway. Sure, he had more money than she could count, and the thousand dollars or so he spent on their meals per month wouldn’t hurt him, but it was so wasteful. Besides, she hadn’t been to his house yet and had been dying to see what it looked like. It was only 10 minutes away. So, she suggested they stay in and have a home-cooked meal.
He looked at her as if he found a loophole in her plan. “I don’t cook.”
She smirked. “I do.”
“I am from Monte Vista. Of course I cook.”
He seemed pleased with this new information. They left the park and went to the market. He told her his refrigerator and pantry were “so sad” and empty, and she laughed. Her parents had little money and struggled to keep the pantry stocked while Kevin had all the money in the world and still struggled to keep the pantry stocked. Poor man.
The car slowed as they approached the house. Butterflies flitted around her stomach, but she didn’t know why she was nervous. Fountains gushed in the front yard, and the huge windows allowed her to peek inside as they rolled by. Kevin’s other beautiful, black cars shined brightly in the headlights. Instead of going through the door in the garage, he led around the house to the front door so she could get the full experience her first time there. She had imagined he lived in a big, fancy place, but finally being there and seeing it with her own eyes was crazy. It was almost as if a different part of him had suddenly come alive to her. Or, maybe she understood certain parts of him better. Either way, he seemed different in the light of his magnificent home.
He gave her the tour, and to her surprise, there wasn’t much to the house. She expected more than two bedrooms, but at the same time, it seemed right for the house. It wasn’t exactly a family friendly home. After the tour, they put the groceries away and started on dinner. As much time as they spent together, he never seemed to grow tired of being around her almost like he couldn’t get close enough. Many times, when they kissed, she felt the same way.
He wrapped his arms around her waist as he often did. She loved the closeness, but honestly, he was in the way.
“So, what’s this?”
“I don’t know.”
He laughed. “You don’t know what you’re making?”
“I do! I don’t know the name.”
“So how do you know how to make it?”
“I watched Mamá make it a million times.”
She sliced, diced and added a little of this and that with his arms still around her waist. Later on, after dinner, he could cuddle with her as much as he wanted, but at the moment she preferred a little space.
“I like having you in my house.”
She smiled. “Can you get plates?”
He snickered and kissed her cheek. “You’re so cute when you’re trying to get rid of me.”