Time in Willow Creek: 4 months, 1 week
Painting got Juliana through the sting of betrayal. The night after her disastrous date with Axel, she swiped the easel from the upper balcony in the back of the house and placed it on the balcony outside her room. She sequestered herself to sort out her feelings. Conflict was not her style, and being hurt by a friend was a new experience. She didn’t know what to think or how to feel, so she painted. This went on four days and nights. Some paintings were bold and red with anger while others were somber and blue. Sometimes, particularly after visits from Hillary, the paintings were fun and splattered with bright yellows and pinks. She even managed to paint two masterpieces during that time.
Thoughts of that horrible night fluttered about her mind all the time. His voice taunted her, and she couldn’t erase his eyes from her mind. She had to keep painting. She didn’t want to be mad at Harriett considering all she had done for her. In a way, she knew it wasn’t her fault, but it was her suggestion. Still, Harriett was her friend. If it had not been for her, Juliana could still be alone and scared on the street. One mistake should not continue to affect their friendship, she decided. After all, this wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to her.
It was lunch time when Juliana finally came out of hiding, and she was starving. Hillary had been delivering the meals to her room as she knew Juliana needed time to decompress, but she was out late the previous night and was still asleep. Harriett had gone to the library and left a sandwich on the counter for her. It was such a simple gesture, but it made her smile and confirmed she was doing the right thing by forgiving Harriett. She ate in the kitchen and thought about what she wanted to do that day. The house was quiet minus the voices coming from the television. After being cooped up in her room for four days, she wanted to get out of the house. She hadn’t visited the museum since before she met Harriett. Her first thought was to go ahead and leave, but she didn’t want to alarm anyone if they discovered she was missing. She still was not completely comfortable with Harold, but he was the only one available. She took her time washing and drying the plate and putting it back in the cabinet, psyching herself up the entire time to speak with Harold. She took a deep breath before dragging herself to the living room. She watched him for a moment. She couldn’t tell if he was either so engrossed in his show that he didn’t notice her standing there, or was he in a trance? He sat there all day and night day after day and night after night. Was he really watching anything? It was almost as if he were under some evil curse and was doomed to sit in front that screen for the rest of his life. At last, he took notice of her. He hadn’t seen her in four days and was surprised to see her.
She was too busy watching him and didn’t think about what she was supposed to say. “I…I…I go out?”
He nodded, and she dashed away.
Juliana appreciated the accouterments of a modern society, however, she felt more like herself when she walked from place to place. Willow Creek was more spread out than her village in Monte Vista. She never had to walk terribly far at home. At least she still had a way to get exercise without chores to do or school to attend. It was a bright, beautiful day—perfect for a long walk. The tree branches rustled with the wind. Birds in the distance sang their afternoon songs. She could smell the river that was just a stone’s throw away. Next to the river was the picnic table where she sat all night during her final stint of homelessness. A smile crept on her face as she thought about the contrast of her life before and now. She walked through the neighborhood past large, stately homes and still couldn’t believe her luck. For the first time, she felt like she belonged. She didn’t have delusions of going back to Monte Vista, but the more Willow Creek grew on her, the firm grip Monte Vista had on her heart loosened. Calling it home didn’t feel so traitorous.
When she finally arrived at the museum, she went upstairs. She preferred the music inspired works of art over the dusty pieces of historical junk. As it had been a long time since her last visit, she was pleasantly surprised to see new works to gaze upon.
Some paintings she stood in front of and studied them like there was a secret message inscribed just for her. She felt inspired by them. They reminded her of her dreams and encouraged her to continue going after them. Other pieces she sat in front of and drank them in. She had music inside of her, and it yearned to get out; so far, she hadn’t found an outlet for it. She was a piano player. Her father taught her when she was very young. The memories of those times were sweet, and she always cherish them. Even though he was gone, playing made her feel close to him.
Once the paintings ceased communicating with her, she claimed an easel and began to paint. Although she had been doing very well with her Simlish lessons, she wasn’t quite fluent yet, and it was still difficult to communicate with everyone. She had so much she wanted to say. It wasn’t that she was a chatterbox back home, but she wasn’t used to being silent all the time. So, when the words weren’t there, she painted. That was how she had been emoting.
It was a popular day to visit the museum. No sooner than she arrived, the room began to fill with fellow art lovers who wanted to sit and drink in the beauty which surrounded them. Juliana appreciated knowing there were so many other people who loved art like she did. Back home, she had to keep her love to herself. Loving art wasn’t wrong per se, but people like her, and her family, weren’t supposed to be interested in posh things such as art. Only the rich could enjoy art, therefore do not associate with it or even dream you could ever be part of such a society; that was the mindset. However, Juliana’s parents never subscribed to the ideals which were thwarted on them. They supported whatever it was their children wanted to do. When Juliana was a child—before she learned this faux pax—she expressed an interest in painting, and her parents did whatever they could to cultivate that love in her. They could never afford anything close to an easel or a proper canvas, but they brought her whatever they could find, and she used it. In school, she took art classes. Needless to say, there weren’t many students in those classes. She always chose art as her elective while most of her classmates chose more practical electives such as wood shop or home economics. Those times in art class were special, and she never wanted those periods to end.
The museum was crowded, and it was hard to distinguish individual voices; there was just a soft buzz of chatter in the background. It was like white noise and helped her focus on what she was painting. She was so focused, she didn’t even realize there were two people in the room whom she knew; they didn’t see her either. Jase was there with two friends, and Kevin Garland was alone. He was the man with the kind face she met at The Warehouse months ago.
The paintings seemed to be communicating with him as well as he made his way around the room slowly. There was something about the dusty desert canyons that stole his attention for several minutes while Juliana happily continued to paint. When he was finished gazing into the canyons, he turned around to move across the room. That’s when he noticed her. Bar art girl! He normally wasn’t good with faces and almost never remembered people he met only once, but being familiar with her homeland and what her people faced instantly made her less of a stranger to him. He didn’t know much about her yet, but he was certain she had an incredible amount of faith and courage to make it out of her community alive and healthy.
She jumped at the sound of her name and almost dropped her paint brush. Despite how comfortable she was getting in Willow Creek, she still was not used to being known by name in public.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Do you remember me?”
It was roughly three months ago when she first saw his kind face. Unlike him, her memory was very sharp, and she remembered everything. Her success in her lessons was a testament of her excellent memory. “Hello Kevin,” she said in her beautiful accent.
He was the one who was surprised this time. “You remember my name! I’m impressed.”
Neither of them remembered moving, but somehow they ended up sitting next to each other on one of the benches.
“Have you been well?” he asked.
Although her week had been horrible, she knew he was asking about her life in general since the last time they met and chose to disregard the happenings of the past week. She nodded and said, “Yes. I read and paint…and my friends do good to me.” She spoke more fluidly and with a bit more confidence than the last time they were together.
His eyes brightened. “If you don’t mind me saying so, your Simlish has improved so much since we last spoke. It’s remarkable!”
It was natural for Harriett and Hillary—and occasionally Jase—to praise her progress. But, that was the first time someone outside of her circle of comfort took notice and praised her efforts; it made her very proud. “Thank you. Harriett teach me at the library.”
Kevin had no idea who Harriett was or even how Juliana came know her, but he knew she had to be an amazing woman and longed to met her one day. “You must be an incredible student,” he said.
Juliana smiled even wider at this compliment, but she knew she couldn’t take all the praise for her own. “Harriett is good teacher. Very…ehhh, how to say…very…hard?” She chuckled. It was the first time she had been able to tell someone about Harriett’s no nonsense teaching style. She was stickler for correct grammar, harped on every mistake, and made her correct them immediately. Between Juliana’s memory and Harriett’s strictness, it was no wonder how Juliana had come so far in four months.
“Humility. That is an excellent trait to have.”
She didn’t quite understand what he meant, but it seemed that everything which proceeded from his mouth was always complimentary. Whatever it meant was something good. It had been a few hours since she left the house and decided she should return home. “I must go.” She arose from her resting place.
“It was so nice to see you again, Juliana. I hope we run into each other again soon.”
She grinned, said goodbye, and left him to return home.
Juliana was beaming on her walk home for this had been the best day she had all week. Being at the museum by herself and speaking with Kevin without Harriett or Hillary around to help her made her feel confident and empowered. She knew she didn’t get all the words right, but her messages still got across. When she got home, she heard Harriett bustling around the kitchen getting dinner prepared. The air was fragrant with sautéed onions and garlic. Harriett was still used to having dinner ready by 6:00 from the days when Harold was working and wanted to come home to dinner on the table. She didn’t need to do it now, but it was a tough habit to break. Juliana noticed this trend pretty early on and went straight up to her room to spend the next hour. Although she was prepared to forgive Harriett, she wasn’t quite ready to face her just yet.
Harriett called everyone to dinner at 6:03, and they all sat down in the dining room as they did every night. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to see Juliana join them after a four night absence. Previously, Hillary had delivered all the meals to her in her room because she knew Juliana would need time before she could face Harriett again.
Shortly after dinner, Juliana was in her room reading when Harriett stepped in the doorway. She was very surprised and pleased to see the door open as it had been closed to her for four days and nights. “Knock knock,” she said.
She was so proud to see Juliana reading on her own. She didn’t doubt the rift in their relationship would stop Juliana’s progress, but she certainly was glad to see for herself it had not. Juliana looked up sheepishly from the book and quickly went back to it. She hadn’t prepared herself to talk yet and was nervous; she waited for Harriett to speak first. However, Harriett was busy taking notice of Juliana’s work on the walls. “Good gracious! You did all these? You’re really talented!”
Juliana appreciated her noticing, but she had been anticipating this conversation all day and simply wanted to get on with it so she could forgive her and move on. Her silence made Harriett realize why she had come to her room in the first place.
“Ok. I know you’re madder than a wet hen right now and you blame me, and that’s ok. I blame me too.” She knew that idiom was lost on Juliana, but she continued anyway. That wasn’t the part that mattered. “You have every right to be angry with me, but I hope that one day you’ll be able to forgive me. I’m so sorry about what happened. I don’t know why, but somehow I end up being so blind when it comes to my son. I keep thinking I can fix him, but I always end up making things worse. Anyway, I just wanna say that I truly am sorry for putting you in that position, and I’ll make sure he never comes near you again.”
Juliana heard her words, but not all of them made sense. However, she understood Harriett was sorry and wanted forgiveness. Frankly, she didn’t care why Harriett made such a bad decision. She wanted it behind her.
“I forgive you, Harriett.” That was the first time she uttered anything to her in four days.
“Oh praise the Lord! Thank you. I was feeling so bad.”
Juliana was happy too. She got her friend back and could operate normally again.
“I got you a present,” Harriett said. She pulled a book from the pocket on her robe and presented it to Juliana. “I got you this notebook so you can practice writing. But…I also thought that maybe you might want to write to your mother sometime and let her know how you’re doing and that you’re safe and sound. I’m sure she’d like to know that. Just give me the address and I’ll mail it for ya. You can write her as much as you like!”
Juliana took the book from Harriett and was overcome with tears. This gift was more than just a gift to her. Not only was it a token of their friendship, but also it was a testament of Harriett’s love for her. Giving Juliana the notebook to further her education would have been sufficient. But, to acknowledge a deep felt need Juliana had but never communicated spoke volumes about how Harriett felt about her. Juliana knew she should say thank you, but she couldn’t get it out. Harriett could see she appreciated it and patted her on the shoulder before she left her alone. When Harriett closed the door, Juliana began to weep. They weren’t sad tears. Just tears. Perhaps tears of relief from patching things up. Maybe tears of expectation. There were definitely happy tears from learning she could potentially communicate with her mother. Whatever the mix of tears, she recognized this day as a turning point in her life. Things would never be the same for her, and she didn’t want them to be. The life her mother wanted for her was just around the corner, and she couldn’t wait.