Time in Willow Creek: 2 years, 3 months, 2 weeks
A few days before the trip, Juliana and Kevin had the same spat over and over. He wanted to stay at a hotel so no one would be displaced and she could have ample family time without him being in the way. She wouldn’t hear it. Yes, the house was tiny, and yes they would all be packed in like sardines, but that was no reason for him to waste money on a hotel. How was he supposed to get to know them without being around? He always considered her and wanted the best for her, and she appreciated it, but his logic was completely flawed. She put her foot down. “I’ll sleep with Mamá, and you can sleep in my room with Andres.” He couldn’t refute that.
Entering her old room was like going into a time capsule; everything was exactly the way she left it two years ago. Andres still slept in there alone while the three girls remained on top of each other in the largest bedroom. Perhaps they thought she would return if they didn’t disturb anything. Or, maybe it was more like a memorial. How morbid.
Standing there between her brother and boyfriend, she never imagined she would be in the same room with her two favorite guys. Every now and then, she pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. Andres smiled eagerly, his eyes begging her to spend time with him. Kevin’s red eyes gave away his fatigue despite all attempts to remain alert. He wanted her attention too; she had barely seen him since lunch and felt bad for ignoring him. It’s not like she did it on purpose.
Andres yawned, and she was minutes away from falling over herself. Whichever guy she chose, they needed to converse quickly. Choosing seemed silly, however. After all, they had nine more days together. She showed Kevin the bathroom and which drawers he could put his clothes in to keep him busy while she spoke to her brother. She smiled as she watched him unpack. He seemed so comfortable in her house and was glad he didn’t fight her on the arrangements though she still couldn’t believe he wanted to stay somewhere else.
She crossed the room, sat next to her brother, and flashed a cheeky grin. “Do you think the hotel has homemade cake?”
His eyes narrowed–he probably attempted a witty repartee–but he chuckled and let his head drop to his chest in defeat. “No, sweetheart. There’s probably no homemade cake at the hotel.”
“Are you going to try out for fútbol again, Andres?”
His shoulders sunk. “I don’t know. I want to, but I don’t think I should.”
She nodded. “I know. Don’t worry about that anymore. If you want to try again, you should try again.”
He grinned. “What’s it like being rich?”
How could he think that? Despite how silly it was, seeing it from his perspective wasn’t hard. She had a suitcase full of what they would consider designer clothes. Her curves were more prominent and testified to the many rich meals she ate. On top of that, she dated a rich man. What she found to be an ordinary American life, her brother found to be fabulously luxurious. It seemed so long ago she thought the exact same thing.
“I’m not. Things are different in America. There are more opportunities. But, I wouldn’t be doing as well if it weren’t for the family I live with. Him too.” She nodded toward Kevin. “Just because I dress nice and live in a big house doesn’t mean I am rich. I am the same person as when I left…just with more options.”
“I’m gonna be rich like him when I grow up.”
She smiled. “You will, but don’t let it change who you are.”
“I won’t. I’ll be sure to invite you to my mansion from time to time.”
She shook her head at her sweet little brother. He only recently turned 13 but was such a cocky teenage boy already. Where did the time go? Hopefully, he would stay sweet and wouldn’t give Mamá trouble.
“Ok, silly. I’m exhausted and need to sleep. Are you ok with Kevin in here? You can sleep with Mamá and I’ll stay here.”
He wrinkled his nose. “Mamá will cuddle me like a baby, no!”
“I like him. I’m ok.”
She smiled. “I’m glad.” Mamá wouldn’t appreciate them staying in the same room together anyway. She leaned over and pecked him on the cheek. “I love you. Goodnight.”
He seemed surprised to hear her say that. “Goodnight.”
The Sepulveda family weren’t verbally intimate people, but Juliana’s absence challenged the culture. In her inaugural letter, she missed home so much and couldn’t help but tell Mamá how much she loved her. Mamá must have felt the same way for the L word filled her letters too. The other children hadn’t caught on yet, but as long as they knew how much she loved them, she didn’t mind if they didn’t say it back.
Kevin’s suitcase was almost empty, so she left Andres to say goodnight. Switching between Simlish and her native tongue was not easy. “You look so tired.”
“So do you.”
She nodded. “Are you ok with my brother?”
He grinned. “Oh yeah. Me and him go way back.”
She chuckled. How they could bond without communicating verbally remained to be seen, but it comforted her to know they were fond of each other.
He drew her into his arms and planted a soft kiss on her cheek. “I hope you get some sleep. Please try.”
“I will. Don’t worry.”
“You better. Goodnight, Juliana.”
She left the boys and tiptoed to the girls’ room to say goodnight to anyone still awake. Just as she suspected, Adrianna waited for her bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
“Why are you still up?”
“I’m never gonna get a chance to talk to you without Mamá and the girls around.”
That was true.
They watched the little girls dream for a few minutes. Mara and Vittoria were so little when she left. It was strange. The last two years felt like an eternity to Juliana, but looking at her family, two years had gone by faster than a bat of an eyelash. The little girls were taller and had distinct personalities. Mara’s cute, curly locks had grown past her shoulders. Andres was big and tall just like Papá. Adrianna wore lipstick and charmed boys. The changes in her own life were innumerable. In the morning, she would experience another big change: turning 20 years old. The new decade brought on conflicting feelings. On one hand, she looked forward to not being a teenager anymore especially when she didn’t feel like one. Maybe everyone would stop seeing her as a helpless little girl–especially Kevin. On the other hand, 20 sounded so…mature. Not necessarily the age, but the stage of life she entered. The changes would only get bigger and more complex. It was intimidating.
“Sooooooooo,” Adrianna’s voice interrupted the silence, “Is Kevin a really good kisser?”
Despite knowing her sister would want to discuss her relationship, Juliana still managed to be startled by the randomness of the question. Fifteen…what a complicated age! Almost grown but still very much a child.
The girl grinned, awaiting eagerly an answer. “He has really cute lips!”
Surely others could hear them such close quarters. That was the only time she was glad Kevin and her family didn’t understand each other. Thinking of their last passionate kiss and how her entire body felt like it was on fire…the warmness in her cheeks gave her away.
Adrianna gasped. “He is!”
Juliana tried to escape. “We should sleep. It’s late.”
Her sister pulled her back. “Noooooo, please? I want to hang out with you! Just for a little while.”
It was hard to remember being her age sometimes. Five years ago felt like a lifetime. She used to have this same kind of girl talk with her school friends. What happened to them? Would it be worth trying to find them? “What did you all do while me and Mamá were outside?”
“Kevin played a game with us!”
Juliana’s eyes brightened. “What game? How did he teach you?”
“He took a paper from his pocket and folded it into a little triangle. Then he told Mara to stand at the other side the table with her hands like this.” She put her thumbs together and pointed her index fingers in the air. “He said her hands were the goal. Is that spelled the same as gol?”
She shook her head. “G-o-a-l.”
The girl’s face wrinkled. “What’s the A for?”
“Anyway, so Mara stood there, and then he flicked the triangle with his fingers and it flew across the table and smacked her right in the forehead! It was so funny!”
It felt so good to laugh with her sister again.
“We each took turns. He tried to keep score, but we couldn’t agree on what was a gol and what wasn’t. It was fun!”
It warmed her heart to know he made a good impression on them without needing her around. She wasn’t concerned about him making a bad impression, but the language barrier made her nervous.
“Is it hard to learn Simlish? You make it look so easy.”
A quick, bittersweet memory of her library lessons came to mind. “I had a great teacher.”
“The one who died?”
“I still miss her a lot, but everyone is much better. Even Mr. Humphries.”
The girl shook her head. “That poor man.”
“I’m so glad him and Hillary are getting along now. Can you imagine? Things could have turned out so much differently for them, but thank God they got better and not worse.”
“Will you keep living with them?”
“I don’t know. I’ve always wanted to live on my own, so I’ll move out eventually. I just don’t know when. There’s so much I still don’t know…it makes me nervous, but I want to do it. At least for a little while.”
Adrianna looked so proud with her large, beamish grin. “You’re so grown now! I want to live with you in America when I turn 18.”
Juliana knew the adventure her little sister sought. Perhaps a bit of change would do well for the girl. “Maybe once I settle in my own place, you can stay with me on a school break. Like summer.”
Adrianna’s eyes were as large as saucers. “Oh please please please make it happen! I want to see where you live and go shopping and eat at restaurants and do all the American things!”
It was the most brilliant idea. Maybe all of them could come for a week throughout the year one-by-one. And, maybe once they could all come so Mamá would get a chance as well. Maybe one day they wouldn’t have to strategize and make these kinds of plans. Maybe one day they could all live in the same town. Maybe they would all get to live the American dream.
The sisters talked for another hour or so about what’s been going on in Adrianna’s life–mainly all the cute boys–then Juliana tore herself away to get to bed. She kept reminding herself she had nine more days and didn’t need to cram all the conversations into one epic day. Afterall, she promised Kevin she would get some sleep. Tiptoeing into her mother’s room, she thought she’d climb into bed and crash. Instead, she found her wide awake also waiting up.
“Mamá! You’ve been eavesdropping.”
She chuckled. “I can’t help it. I’ve missed hearing you two gossip and carry on like you do.”
She couldn’t fault her for that. “Adrianna wants to live with me.”
Mamá rolled her eyes and turned down the bed. “Of course she does.”
Her sister had become quite a handful in her teenage years, apparently.
“Do you think she could come for a short time?”
“If you think you can handle her. It would be good for her though I think it would create a monster.”
“She might never want to return home. Are you ready to raise a teenage girl?”
Juliana stifled laughter. “Mamá!”
“I wish I were kidding.”
“What about Andres?”
She hesitated at first but agreed he could visit. “The girls are too young to make such a large trip alone.”
“You could bring them.”
“…or you can keep coming home.”
“I’m sorry, Juliana, but I don’t think I could handle the travel.”
Juliana grinned and slipped into bed. “I think you’re just making sure I come home again.”
Mamá flashed a cheeky grin before her eyes closed. “Perhaps.”
“Goodnight, Mamá. I love you.”