Time in Willow Creek: 2 years, 5 months, 1 day
Adrenaline rushed through Kevin’s body as he drove yet another woman he loved to the hospital. His heavy foot made the accelerator kiss the floor. If his heart pumped any faster, he’d surely end up in a bed next to her. Caroline had been so stubborn about getting the help she needed, and Juliana was exactly the same. He overreacted. She wasn’t dying, but the familiar situation sent him back to that panicked place. He kept glancing at her as if her state would change any second. She sat in the passenger seat with her head up against the window, eyes closed and hand draped across her forehead. Though he knew she wasn’t seriously hurt, he couldn’t stop replaying the scene in his mind. Seeing her crash into that palette rack and falling backward, and hearing her cry out in pain, was almost enough to bring tears to his eyes.
“Juliana! Oh my God! Juliana? Are you-are you ok?”
Stunned and silent, she sat there for what felt like an eternity. Finally, she said, “Who put that there?” He exhaled all his breath. She was ok.
Then she wasn’t. He helped her get up, but she went down again, groaning and saying something in her language.
“What is it? Are you hurt?”
She covered her mouth as if to keep something in. Her smooth, brown skin went pale.
“Talk to me, Juliana! Tell me what’s wrong!”
She didn’t need him to be so panicked, but he couldn’t help it. What if something was seriously wrong? He couldn’t lose her too. His thoughts were completely irrational, and he knew it, but he had them.
“I feel sick.”
The adrenaline rush began. “We have to get you to the hospital!”
“No…no, I am ok. I need to lay down.”
His eyes widened. “You can’t go to sleep! You might have a concussion!”
“I want to go home,” she whined.
“You can’t go home. You have to go to the hospital! Right now!”
She was confused and frustrated, and his yelling made her more adamant about going home. He meant well, of course, but he couldn’t help himself. “Take me home,” she yelled. Another bout of nausea sent her back to the floor. At least he didn’t have to carry her out like he did Caroline, but he did have to lie. She went willingly under the guise that he would take her home. When she realized he wasn’t going to Willow Creek, she protested. How did he keep getting paired with stubborn women?
She sat silently next to him clearly annoyed. Even if she had a concussion, they couldn’t do anything for her. They’d send her home with a list of restrictions for as long as it took. As stubborn as she was, and probably to spite him, she’d disregard the doctor’s orders. He couldn’t let her go home. She needed to get better as fast as possible. They were opening in two weeks! It was just a soft opening, but still, she needed to be in tip-top shape.
He got up to go call Hillary. “I’ll be right back,” he said. She rolled her eyes. Why did she treat him like the villain in their story? It’s not like he canceled a date night or something. They were in the hospital! For her! Once she was out of earshot, he made the call.
“Kevin? Can’t say I’ve ever seen your name on my caller ID before. What’s wrong?”
“Uhh…don’t freak out.”
“You called me! I’m already freaked out!”
“I know. I’m sorry. But seriously…don’t freak out. I’m at the hospital with Juliana.”
“Oh my Lord!”
“She’s fine! Sorta.”
“What hospital? I’m coming right now!”
“No! Please, don’t come. She’s already mad at me for bringing her here, and if you guys come–”
“Is she conscious?”
“Yeah, she’s fine I–”
“Is she bleeding?”
“Is anything broken?”
She sighed. “Well, what in the world happened?”
His cheeks warmed. Somehow, telling her what they had been up to felt like that time his roommate walked in on him trying to get to second base with some girl back in college. It was so embarrassing.
He cleared his throat. “Well, we were hanging paintings at the gallery, and uhhh…we…we were just playing around…”
“I chased her. She wasn’t looking and ran right into a palette rack. I think she has a concussion.”
“Oh my word!”
“When we get out of here, I’m gonna take her back to my house. You know how stubborn she can be, so I’m gonna make sure she rests and does what the doctor says.”
“Good. The baby started walking, so I can’t watch her like that right now.”
It felt good to smile at that moment. He needed something to take him out of panicked hero mode. “She’s walking? That’s wonderful.”
“Yeah. Now she’s really keeping us on our toes.”
“I bet. Hey, can you do us a favor?”
“Can you bring her some clothes and whatever else she needs?”
“Yeah, I can do that.”
“Thanks so much. I should get back to her.”
“Good luck tonight. You’ll need it.” She didn’t even try to hide her laughter.
He snorted. “Yeah…thanks. See you in a bit.
The doctor called Juliana back a few minutes after he hung up with Hillary. They did all kinds of tests and confirmed his suspicions. She had a mild concussion, and it came with a laundry list of restrictions. No screens. No loud music. No intense conversation. Even laughing was off limits. The evening had already gotten off to a sucky start with her injury, and now she would probably die of boredom on his watch. Nice going, Kev.
When they arrived at the house, he attempted to take her phone away and told her he already spoke to Hillary. That went over as well as waving a red flag in front of a bull. She charged at him, but he didn’t run. He stood his ground and grabbed her by the horns, wrestling her to the ground. “The doctor said no screens! I just don’t want you to be tempted.” She unwillingly handed over her phone and sat down to watch TV. They fought over that too.
She jumped up and got in his face. “What am I supposed to do? Sit and look at walls?”
“You’re not supposed to yell, Juliana.”
She growled and stormed outside. What was her deal? Sure, she enjoyed television as much as the next person, but she wasn’t a couch potato. She could have read a book, or they could have a nice quiet evening together. Why all the defiance? He hadn’t done anything wrong. Though he wasn’t a stranger to her frustrations and occasional attitudes, Kevin was blindsided by her behavior. He’d never seen her so upset before and had no idea what to do about it. No wonder Hillary wished him luck. Clearly, Juliana needed a moment to cool off, so he let her go wherever she went and left her there for a few minutes. During that time, Hillary arrived with a bag for her.
He let her in. “Boy am I glad to see you.”
She walked in with a smirk on her face. “That bad, huh?”
“She’s pissed. I didn’t know she could get this upset.”
Still smirking, she said, “Well, now you know!” She handed him the bag and turned around to leave. “Good luck!”
“Wait! You don’t want to see her? She might–”
“Nope! Been there, done that. Got all the t-shirts. It’s your turn.” She laughed and waved as she walked away.
He sighed and hoped Juliana had calmed down enough and brought the bag to her. He found her stewing at the chess table by the pool. “Hillary just left. She brought this for you.”
She didn’t dignify him with even a side-eye glance at the bag.
“I’m gonna take it upstairs.”
She ignored him.
He sighed and resolved to leave her alone for the rest of the night. “When you’re ready for bed, I’ll have the guest room set up for you.” Despite the fact that he wanted to hold her all night, she clearly needed all the space she could get. She snorted and said something he didn’t understand. It wasn’t even under her breath and didn’t sound nice. Why did she fight him? He was just trying to help.
He did leave her alone but stayed close, peeking at her occasionally and making sure she wasn’t doing anything illegal. She wasn’t there on his last check. He panicked a little but trusted she simply went to bed. After all, she did want to lay down before. He took the opportunity to retire as well and took a quick shower first. The dark guest room confirmed her whereabouts, and his shoulders slumped in relief not because he didn’t want to deal with her anymore but because she was safe. Standing in front of her door, he waffled between knocking and going in. His Juliana was hurt and in pain, and all he wanted to do was hold her and tell her everything would be ok, but she didn’t want to be held.
“Goodnight, Juliana,” he said from the other side of the door. “Let me know if you need anything…I love you.”
In the morning, he arose early and tiptoed into her room with breakfast. He spread everything on a tray table next to her bed and watched her sleep from the sofa across the room. She looked so peaceful and dared not to wake her.
When she came around, her groans told him she was still in pain. Maybe even more than before.
He went to her. “How do you feel?”
She moaned again, pinching her eyes shut. He looked around the room to make sure the curtains were drawn. The Oasis Springs morning sun was a menace to that side of the house.
He kissed her cheek. “I’m sorry. I wish there was something I could do.”
Looking at her pained face, his heart went out to her. Her injury was common and not life-threatening, but the panic and anxiety from the previous day had sent him deep into his feelings. Pain was the thread that wove the tapestry of her life together, and he wished he could stop it. She’d had physical pain from starvation and weariness. Psychological pain from being afraid and desperate. Emotional pain from losing loved ones, being separated from her family, racism, and now the hiccup in her brain and bump on her head. Life would never be pain-free, he knew, but when could she have a little respite?
She sniffed the air. He almost forgot about the breakfast. “I didn’t know what you’d like, so I brought a little of everything.”
He chuckled. “I tried.”
The tiniest grin warmed him like sitting in front of a fire wrapped in a snuggly blanket sipping hot cocoa.
“What did they say about me?”
Of course! Why didn’t it occur to him last night? No wonder she was so frustrated; she didn’t understand. Juliana was so wise and intelligent, always reading and learning new things, it was easy to forget she still didn’t understand many things. How could he acknowledge that without patronizing her?
“They said you have a concussion.”
“I know, but what’s that?”
“It’s a minor brain injury.”
A flicker of panic flashed from her eyes.
He patted her shoulder. “You’re ok. You’re ok. I promise. You just need to rest.”
“What’s wrong with my brain?”
People usually didn’t hear their brains were injured, and he knew she was scared. A snow globe sat on the desk in his peripheral vision. It would be the perfect way to explain it to her. “Pretend this glass is your skull, and the snow is your brain, ok?”
“The brain should remain relatively still. When you hit your head,” he smacked the snow globe and snow stirred up, “your brain hit against your skull, and just like all this snow, it got jostled around.” He waited a few seconds to make his next point. “You see how the snow is settling now? That’s why you need to rest. Your brain needs to calm down and get back to normal.”
She looked like she understood but had questions. “Why can’t I have my phone?”
He felt so guilty. Her behavior was her own, but he still felt responsible. “Part of resting is keeping your brain activity low. The blue light from the screen is really powerful and does horrible things to your eyes which affects the brain and makes it work harder. Plus, if you see something funny, you might laugh which will make you move your head a lot.”
She nodded. “How long?”
“It depends. Hopefully just a few days. Maybe a week or two.”
“I know. It sucks. It happened to me once. Your headache should go away fairly quickly though. And, if you do what the doctor says, the concussion should heal faster ok? I’m not trying to be bossy. I just want you to get better.”
“Thank you, Kevin. I’m sorry I–”
“Shhh, it’s ok. It’s ok. I’m sorry too. I know I was a bit much. It just reminded me of… I just don’t want anything else to happen to you.”
She held out her arm.
“Ready to sit up?”
She nodded, and he went to the other side of the bed to scoop her up. Once she was upright, she lingered in his arms. He finally got to hold her. Maybe they would have a nice, quiet day together after all. When she released him, he stood and prepared to serve her with a beamish smile.
“French toast and eggs are about all I can make. I had some strawberries too. Do you want juice, milk, or coffee?”