Time in Willow Creek: 4 months, 1 week, 1 day
The morning after Harriett’s apology, she whipped up a batch of her award-winning buttermilk pancakes. She stacked them high on a white porcelain plate like a tall mountain peak. The melted butter flowed down the sides of the stack like a majestic waterfall. A pot of water was boiling. Harriett submerged a bottle of maple syrup to serve warm. After a few minutes, the sweet air drifted through the house. Life was good again. It was a funny thing. Four months ago, Harriett didn’t know Juliana even existed. But now, she could not imagine her life without her. Juliana was family, and Harriett did not enjoy estranged familial relationships although it seemed she had her fair share of partially estranged relationships.
Harriett was catching Juliana up on all the goings on at the library over breakfast, but Juliana was a bit distracted. She kept looking over Harriett’s shoulder at something outside. Finally, when there was a break in the conversation, she asked, “What is there?” She was pointing to the building in their backyard.
Harriett looked over her shoulder and said, “Oh…that’s just a storage building. It’s filled with old junk… Kids stuff, Christmas stuff…nothing important.”
Juliana went back to her breakfast.
“So, I thought it might be nice to introduce you to the rest of the family. Would you like that?”
The idea sounded nice, but Juliana was hesitant about one family member that might have been at this gathering.
Harriett saw that look. “Oh puddin’ I’m sorry. Axel won’t be there. I promise! We’re gonna go to my daughter’s house. Ok?”
Everyone went on with their day. Shortly after Harriett knew the grandchildren would be home, they walked around the corner to Rebecca’s house. Harriett led the way as they marched around the circular drive to the stairs. She rapped on the door.
Rebecca’s husband—Jack—answered. “Mother! How lovely to see you.” He bent down and kissed her on the cheek. “Come on in, y’all.” He moved aside as he held the door open for them. “How are you doing, Hillary? Hello, Mr. Humphries.”
“Hi,” Harold said.
“I’m doing all right how about yourself?” Hillary asked.
They all knew to make themselves comfortable in the living room, and Juliana followed them nervously.
“Jack, this is Juliana,” Harriett said. “She’s living with us now.”
“Oh! Well isn’t that nice. It’s good to meet you, Juliana. Welcome to our home.”
“Nice to meet you too,” she said. He seemed nice enough.
“So where are you from, Juliana?”
“Oh! How did you find yourself way over here and in my mother-in-law’s home?”
Harriett interrupted, “She’ll tell us all about it when her Simlish gets better. We have lessons a few times a week, and she’s gettin so good! She barely knew anything when I first found her.”
“Wow,” Jack said. “I sure would love to hear that story.”
The children had been home for a little while, but they were around and about. One by one, they trickled in and gathered around as they heard their family’s voices downstairs.
“Juliana, these are my precious grandkids,” Harriett said. “Juliana is staying with us. Why don’t y’all introduce yourselves.”
Spunky little Mallory, the youngest and Jack’s only biological child, spoke up first. “I’m Mallory and I’m 7 ½!”
Her brother, Jake, was a bit shy and not so forth coming. He was 13 and the product of Rebecca’s previous marriage—the third one. All the other children took after their fathers, but Jake was the only one to be the spitting image of Rebecca.
“This is my brother, Jake. He don’t talk much,” Mallory said.
“Nice to meet you,” Juliana said. She liked children a lot.
The other two were engrossed in whatever Harriett was saying to them. Sloane, 19, was the oldest grandchild and Harold’s absolute favorite. Her father, Rebecca’s first husband, was Harold’s favorite son-in-law. He often said he was a real man. None of Rebecca’s other husbands measured up to him–not even Jack. Terry, 16, might not look much like his mother, but he was more like her than any of the other children. He had a taste for big, fancy things and was very sure of himself.
Hillary didn’t have much to do with her nieces and nephews. It’s not that she didn’t like them, but they didn’t have much in common. She wasn’t close to her sister because of the age disparity, so naturally she never got close to her kids either. Rebecca was newly married and out of the house when Hillary was born. She was three years old when she first became an aunt. They were more like cousins or younger siblings she didn’t live with than nieces and nephews. However, from time to time, she and Sloane would party together. Sloane was good at partying. She always knew where to find the hot guys.
Within the hour, Rebecca arrived from work and was surprised to see her living room full of guests. “Mama…daddy…nice to see y’all. Hello, Hillary. Who’s this?”
“This is Juliana,” Jack said. “Your parents took her in. Isn’t that nice?”
Rebecca didn’t always understand her mother, but she definitely was concerned about people taking advantage of her goodwill and was immediately suspicious of Juliana. “Is that so? What is this, mama?”
Harriett knew exactly what she was getting at. “Oh, calm down. I’m just doing what the good Lord told me to do! I’m clothing her and feeding her and giving her shelter just like the good book says. Poor thing was starving and homeless when I found her!”
Rebecca was slightly moved. “Oh. How terrible.”
“She’s from Monte Vista,” Jack added.
“Oh, how exotic,” Rebecca said flatly. “Well, my name is Rebecca, and as you’ve probably guessed, I am their daughter. You’ve met my family, I presume?”
“Yes,” Juliana said. Rebecca made her nervous just like Harold did. There was something ominous about their personalities. It didn’t help they never smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
“Here,” Harriett said. “Have my seat.” She got up to let Rebecca rest and to get to know Juliana.
Rebecca sat down and inspected Juliana like the suspect she thought she was. A pretty suspect nonetheless. She was trying to size her up. Her eyes were burning a hole in the side of Juliana’s head which made her even more nervous.
“Well don’t sit there staring at her,” Hillary said. “Ask her about herself or something.”
“Very well. What do you like to do, Juliana?”
Juliana glanced at Hillary for reassurance. Hillary returned an encouraging nod.
“I…I like to paint. And…I like piano.”
Hillary grinned as she learned something new about her friend. Rebecca’s disposition changed as well. “Oh! Well isn’t that something. I love the piano too. Can’t play worth a darn, but I love to listen. My husband plays. My father did too. Did you know that, Hillary?”
“I’ve never heard him, but I know he used to play,” Hillary said.
“You’ll have to come here and practice sometime, Juliana.”
“I would love to hear her play,” Harriett said. “I didn’t even know she could!”
The family didn’t get together much, and there was a lot of catching up to do. For the next hour, the room was abuzz with vibrant conversations. They shuffled around swapping seats and jumped from conversation to conversation. As the night was wrapping up, Harold decided to catch up with the grandkids beginning with his favorite. He slinked over to Sloane and said, “I hear you got yourself a boyfriend.”
She smirked. She loved her grandfather and knew he thought the world of her. Although he acknowledged she was growing up, he still viewed her with a childlike innocence.
“Ummm…yeah, if you wanna call him that,” she said.
“Is he good to you?”
Her eyes twinkled and she blushed a bit. “He is so good…”
“Good, good,” Harold said. “Make sure he’s strong and good with his hands.”
“Oh, he always knows what to do with his hands, papa.”
“Good. Sound like you got yourself a real man.”
Jake was nearby doing his homework and overheard this conversation and decided to mess with Sloane and spill the beans on her. “Yeah, papa…not only is he good with his hands, he’s good with his t—
“SHUT UP JAKE!”
“You keep studying, Jake,” Harold said. “It’s good to be strong and smart. You’ll find you a girl real soon.”
“He’s 13, papa. He don’t need no girlfriend.”
“Oh. I get all y’all mixed up.” He left them and went over to the couch to speak with his older grandson. They didn’t talk about much, but Juliana enjoyed watching him interact with his grandchildren. He was a completely different man. He was chattier, joyful, and surprisingly encouraging. There was even a calmness in his voice she never heard before. She liked this Harold and hoped to see a lot more of him.