Time in Willow Creek: 2 years, 4 months, 2 weeks, 6 days
The early morning sunlight spilled into Juliana’s room and swept toward the bed as the minutes passed. A school bus roared down the street. The sound always brought her young friend Manu to mind. The new library staff handled the children so well, and he found a positive male figure in Hamza Mansouri, the librarian. She worried about the child sometimes. His behavior had taken a turn for the worst after his mother got married. As a result of this new friendship, however, he behaved better and one burden in Juliana’s mind lifted.
The plush pillow under her head and warm blanket hugging her body were oh so inviting. She melted into them with a satisfying moan. Monday mornings were the best. She could be lazy and linger in bed as long as she wanted for Mondays were her true days of rest. Even though she had a full staff, and the library was back on its regular six days a week schedule, she kept Mondays for herself. In addition to the things she learned about the library during her brief time away after her meltdown, she learned her life had no margin and created space to rest and do whatever she needed to do. Most Sundays, she babysat while Hillary prepared for Sunday dinner. Then of course, the rest of the day was spent with the family and Kevin. Mondays were wide open. Kevin worked all day, and Hillary took care of Abigail until Jase came. She could do whatever she wanted…including nothing at all. But, laying in bed all day wasn’t her style. Sometime between 8:00 and 9:00 her brain and body were rested enough and ready to rock.
One particular cozy Monday morning, her eyes shot open as an awesome idea crash-landed in her head. She grabbed her phone from the nightstand and dialed Kevin’s number.
“Good morning, my love.” He sounded surprised and happy to hear from her so early. “Is everything ok?”
She giggled. “Yes, I’m fine. I want to go to your house later.”
“Oh…ok. Yeah, that’s fine. Are you sure you’re ok?”
Keeping the laughter down proved difficult. She didn’t mean to upset him so early in the morning, but it was his own fault for always assuming anything happening out of the ordinary was a bad thing. Of course, she appreciated the concern but he needed to lighten up sometimes.
“Yes! I’m fine. I want to do something.”
He sighed. “Well, you’re laughing so I guess I believe you. Should I come home for lunch?”
“Ahh. Need some alone time?”
“I won’t say!”
He groaned. “Juliana, you know I hate surprises.”
“That’s not true.”
“Yeah, ok. I like surprising you. I hate surprises for me.”
The biggest grin stretched across her face in tandem with the swelling of her heart. She still hadn’t gotten over the biggest surprise of her life. “I’ll still not tell.”
He chuckled. “You’re such a beautiful, stubborn woman. Fine. The code is 5974… I’m not gonna come home to a bunch of people, am I?”
She laughed and took full advantage of his discomfort. “Maybe.”
He groaned again. “Juliana, please don’t.”
She laughed even harder. “Bye bye, Kevin. I love you! Don’t miss your lunch.”
“Wait, can you at least–“
She hung up and felt a bit evil for setting him up like that, but it was oh so delicious. All she wanted to do was have a nice meal ready for him when he got home. Sometimes their relationship felt one-sided because Kevin’s gestures were always so big. That’s how he operated. It wasn’t a contest, but she wasn’t the only one who was in love and wanted to show it. Her salary couldn’t handle all the things he did, and frankly, she didn’t want it to. She was a calm, low-key type and used the resources readily available to show love in her own way.
Later in the afternoon, after a nice long bath and a little painting, she went to Kevin’s. He had one of those keypad thingys on the front door; it was the coolest thing in the world. She punched in the code, let herself in, and got to work. When it was time for him to arrive, she waited by the kitchen door for him to come from the garage. He stepped through the door with the most urgent look on his face. She laughed and wrapped her arms around him. His chest deflated as the air from the sigh of relief tickled her ear.
“You know I’ve been beside myself all day wondering what you’ve been up to.”
She grinned and nodded. “I made dinner.”
She intercepted any attempts to refute with a soft kiss.
“Mmmm…dessert first. I like.”
A table already prepared on the lower patio awaited them, and she hurried him outside to partake. He sat hesitantly and inspected the meal and the decor. His cute face looked embarrassed, confused, and happy at the same time, and he couldn’t stop shaking his head. “Are you going to allow me to discuss this?”
She giggled. “No.”
“Can I ask just one question?”
Poor man. Why did he find it so difficult to be on the receiving end? More acts like that were on the way, and he needed to get used to it.
“Because I love you.”
He looked like he wanted to say many things but settled on, “This is really nice.”
Dinner was delicious if she could say so. After, clean up and a change of clothes, he couldn’t resist showing his appreciation because loving on her was his favorite thing to do.
Later, Kevin got engrossed in watching the news, and Juliana’s mind kept returning to their trip. She still couldn’t believe he had done that for her. Being in her mother’s arms and around her siblings again gave her the boost she needed so desperately. He couldn’t have known how bad she needed it, but however he knew, she was forever grateful. Ever since they returned, she had been all over the emotional scale. She smiled so radiantly when she would recall the look on her mother’s face when she opened the door and saw her. Laughter ensued at the memories of shenanigans with her siblings. Tears streamed down her face at the mere thought of Kevin’s love and the measures he took to show her. She wasn’t a bad person, but how did she deserve such a wonderful man in her life? Those happy memories were enough to last the rest of the year.
Another memory had also been plaguing her. It wasn’t a bad memory; it was rather pleasant, actually. Still, it bothered her. Juliana had always been a level-headed young lady, thinking before she did everything, taking few risks, and always doing as she was told. She was still that way, but growing up as an adult in America taught her new things. Sometimes, her old ways conflicted with the new information. But after a bit of time, she always managed to mesh them together in a way that allowed her to stay true to herself while adapting to her new environment. That conversation she had with Harriett when she needed advice on continuing her friendship with Kevin often came to mind.
The memory that wouldn’t leave her alone was of one particularly beautiful yet confusing and a little bit embarrassing night. After they left Monte Vista, he surprised her with a few days in Champ Les Sims; it was just a few hours away by train. “Visiting family is nice, but it’s not vacation,” he said. “After everything you went through this year, you need a break. I want you to have a real vacation.”
The hotel was spectacular. Even more amazing than any hotel she had ever seen even in movies. The ridiculously over-the-top two bedroom suite they stayed in made her speechless. The first night, she was still high from being with her family on top of touring around one of the most beautiful cities she had ever seen.
The happiness inside her could not be contained. It spread through her body like gas inflating a balloon. If she got any happier, she would surely float away. Kevin’s arms were the anchor keeping her aground. She asked if she could stay with him, and he gladly accepted her company. He held her, and for one night, she did not float away. Sleeping with Kevin was an interesting experience. The man never moved while she often shifted and flipped her pillow to the cooler side. He was so still and quiet, she was afraid to wake him.
The next night, she joined him again. They weren’t sleepy enough to close their eyes yet, so they lay together, talking, laughing and gazing into each other’s eyes. The conversation moved from recanting the highlights of the day to expressing love for each other. Her lips found their way over to his and caressed them gently.
Chest to chest they lay as he rolled over and kissed her more fervently. Passionate kisses had been a common occurrence for a while, but these were so much more than that. They were desperate. Hungry, even. Uncertainty arose in her. Only one meal could satisfy that hunger. She was curious and wanted to taste this meal as well, but she hesitated to prepare it. Her hesitation and uncertainty came from that conflict between the old and new. The old told her it wasn’t time to eat while the new said as long as they loved each other she could dig in. But, this wasn’t one of those situations where she could create some sort of conglomerate of the two. She had to choose.
Kevin didn’t make the decision easy, assaulting her lips and exploring her body like a pioneer who just found a new land. The conflict was so strong. Her body enjoyed his touch and yearned for more while her brain struggled to arrive at a conclusion. Was there anything truly wrong with taking this step? Her mother always encouraged her to wait until marriage but never said why except that “God forbids it.” Why wouldn’t God want her to be happy? Of course, she was happy all the time, but perhaps she’d be happier being able to live in freedom with the man she loved. Then again, back at home, there was a great example in Hillary of why her mother urged her to wait. Sometimes happiness lead to unfavorable situations. Did she have to decide at that very moment though? Couldn’t she just go with it and see what happened? If at some point she got uncomfortable, they would stop and he would understand, right?
Everything inside her felt like it was on fire. That must have been the point where people usually tore clothes off each other. She was so hot yet so confused about what she should do. They never talked about this, and she didn’t want to disappoint him. But, more importantly, she didn’t want to disappoint herself. If only she knew what to expect from herself.
There was a moment when her brain got really fuzzy and her body’s cravings were stronger than the will to make a decision. Kevin couldn’t have known what went on inside her head, but he paused at that moment and looked deep into her eyes. Part of her didn’t want him to stop while the other part was relieved.
“Juliana…are you sure you want to do this?”
She opened her mouth to say no…or yes. Probably no, but it could have been yes.
A tiny sigh blew from his nose when she didn’t answer. He stroked a few hairs from her face. “I want you…really bad, but I don’t want to do this if you’re not sure. I don’t want to pressure you.”
Though he didn’t make it easy for her, being pressured wasn’t exactly the way she would have described it. After all, she started it.
“When you’re ready, tell me. Ok?”
He kissed her forehead and lay next to her. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I won’t let things get this far again. I promise.”
She felt terrible for letting him think it was all his fault, but she couldn’t speak. She was out of control, acting in a moment of weakness on feelings of uncertainty despite knowing it was a terrible plan. How could she tread in dark, uncharted waters without a map or even a life jacket? Knowing she wasn’t perfect, she still managed to be disappointed in her behavior.
On top of being disappointed with herself, she resisted the urge to cry when she realized the meaning behind what he had done. She may have been naive in many ways, but she wasn’t stupid. That scenario was bound to come up sooner or later in one form or another. He was a man–an older, more experienced man–and as patient as he had been, a time would when his patience would grow thin. They needed to talk about it, but the subject was so uncomfortable. On top of that, she didn’t have a firm position one way or the other. It pleased her, however, to discover this lapse in judgment didn’t upset him; at least he didn’t show it. He loved her so much, he would continue to set aside his own desires in favor of her comfort and peace of mind. What love! What respect! He knew, and she didn’t have to say anything. For his sake, at least, she wanted to discuss it soon. At least the door had been opened, and maybe the conversation wouldn’t be as awkward. In the meantime, when she found the courage to speak on it, an apology was in order. He wouldn’t have behaved as he did without reason, and she had given him those reasons without knowing it.
“I think I should go to my room.”
“Yeah…ok. If that’s what you want.”
She was glad he didn’t contest. Under normal circumstances, he would have coaxed her into talking out her feelings. Maybe he needed to be alone too.
“What are you over there thinking about?”
His voice was like a bullhorn in the silence; it startled her. She still wasn’t ready to talk about it and told a lie. “…I think I want to move out soon.”
“Ohh! Do tell!”
“Well…I don’t know. I feel it is time, but I am not sure if it is a good plan.”
“I want to live downtown, but it’s so far.” Her family and job in Willow Creek would be a half hour away without traffic. Kevin and the art gallery in Oasis Springs would be almost an hour away. Living on her own alone would bring new expenses, but the extra travel would probably cost three times as much. Moving out was a great idea in theory, but would it be more of a burden?
“You could live here with me.” He gave her a gentle squeeze. “We would have more time together…more privacy. I could drop you off at work on my way in and pick you up on the way back. It would be so fun to live together.”
She couldn’t help but smile. The idea was very tempting and made lots of sense. The reasons to move in with him greatly exceeded the reasons not to. “It would…but, no.”
“Why not?” There was a bit of disappointment in his voice.
She took a few moments to think of a response he couldn’t dispute and would respect. “It would be like marriage. I want to live on my own before we go down that road.”
He laughed. “Go down that road? Look at you sounding all American!” He tickled her, and she shrieked.
Once he ceased torture by tickling, he got back to the matter at hand. “But seriously though…What do you mean by it would be like marriage?”
“I… My parents raised me in a way…to do all the marriages things. I am not ready for my life to be that way yet.”
“What exactly do you mean by marriage things?”
“You know…cooking, cleaning…pack your lunch…” And then, of course, there was the other matter she wasn’t ready to discuss yet.
He narrowed his eyes. “But, I wouldn’t expect you to do those things. Is that what–“
“I know you wouldn’t ask me, but I would do it anyway.”
She leaned into his face, interlacing her fingers with his. “Because I love you.”
He looked stunned as if he were hearing her say it for the first time. “Juliana…” He whispered her name as if it were a delicate, desperate plea.
She grinned and turned her attention back to the television.
“Ok, so no to moving in with me… What if I bought you a car and taught you how to drive? Then you could come here whenever you want without spending a ton of money. I like it when you’re here.”
Buying a car was yet another viable option, but it didn’t sit well with her. “I don’t know. I’m scared to drive.”
All he wanted was more time with her. It was a simple, honorable request with no strings attached. Despite how easily she thwarted him, most of the time she struggled. She wanted to make him happy, but accepting all his proposals simply to keep him happy took her further away from the life she wanted to live. Her entire existence had always been about what others thought she should do. She now had the opportunity to decide what happened in life her and would not easily give that up.
“Ok. We’ll put that in the ‘not now’ category.”
Their attention drew back to the news for a brief moment. A report broke of a serious accident downtown. Ambulances whisked away two people in serious condition while another person had died. Her heart broke for those families. It could have been her or even Kevin. She didn’t want any more tragedy in her life. Her methods of transportation suited her just fine for now.
“If you feel like downtown is where you want to be, you should do it and not worry about it. Living away from your job and family isn’t the end of the world. People do it all the time. That’s just how adult life is. You’ll get used to it.”
“Yeah. I will.”
“I could help you with the apartment…you know…so you won’t have so much to worry about.”
Her natural reaction was to refuse his offer and tell him she wanted to figure it out on her own, but she didn’t go there that time. She sat quietly and considered it. Ever since she explained herself to her brother, she had been thinking about it. Kevin’s money was as much a part of him as his hunter green eyes and parted brown hair. She couldn’t accept him without accepting the money. They were in a relationship which meant she was also a part of him. The money was a part of her by extension. She had been so concerned about being her own person, she failed to realize it was because of his money she was as independent as she was through the gifts and the opportunities he afforded her. Picking and choosing when he was allowed to help wasn’t fair to him, and taking his money did not make her less of a person. She wasn’t a charity case or some obligation to him. She was the woman he loved and wanted to take care of. Allowing him to take care of her didn’t have to infringe on her independence as she thought it did. Having access to wealth wasn’t some curse that turned her into a snob and made her forget where she came from. She would still be Juliana–just Juliana with money and nice things. Besides, her savings account looked a little sad after giving her mother a large portion of it. If she did move out soon, she’d have to sleep on the floor.
“R-really? You’re gonna let me do this for you?”
She grinned. “Yes.”
He squeezed tight and kissed her cheek. She wasn’t sure if she had seen him so happy before.
Thinking about her own budget made her think of the library’s finances and that idea she had. Lately, Harriett’s goals for the community had been on her mind. If she kept the library going as is, she would never be able to accomplish those goals. And she could kiss her own ideas goodbye. Things needed to change.
“I want to do a fundraiser each year at the library.”
“You’re full of ideas tonight! What brought this on?”
“I want to do things, but there isn’t money.”
“Why didn’t you say anything? Tell me how much you need.”
“No. I don’t want it to be that way. The community should support the library.”
He nodded slowly and had that look like he was proud of her. “That’s wonderful, Juliana. So, here is what I propose because you’re not going to thwart me that easily. Discuss this with your team, and you guys plan it out. Come up with big ideas for the best community party ever. Spare no expense. Then, you tell me how much it costs, and I will make a donation that just happens to be for that amount…probably more, heh. That will be my annual contribution.”
His head jerked back. “…Ok?”
She laughed. “Yes, I like this idea.”
“Are you going to change your mind later?”
He narrowed his eyes again. “You’ve accepted my help twice in one night. Who are you, and what have you done with my Juliana?”
“I left her in Monte Vista.”