Time in Willow Creek: 5 months, 2 weeks, 3 days
After the art club finished painting, they sat around the coffee table and discussed what inspired them the most. It wasn’t a requirement to share, of course, but they were all in such good spirits and the conversation erupted organically. They were all chomping at the bit to share their inspirations.
Quite a few of the group loved nature and were inspired by the soothing sounds of the night creatures chirping in the distance, babbling brooks, and cool breezes blowing through the trees. Juliana said she was inspired by her mother. A day had not passed that Juliana did not think about the sacrifices her mother made. Her entire existence in Willow Creek was a testament to those sacrifices, and so she could never stop going after her dream.
Juliana noticed Kevin’s demeanor throughout the night. When he arrived, he was ok, but not his usual chipper self. Again, he did not paint. He said he was expecting a few calls. Juliana wasn’t sure if the calls ever came through because he popped in and out all night. He joined them on the couch at the end of the night, but the subject seemed to put him off even more. He actually looked sad. When he saw it was almost his turn to share, he excused himself. He knew he didn’t have to share, but in case they were going to coax him into it, he wanted to get out of there.
Something was wrong. Juliana felt bad for him and hoped whatever it was that upset him wasn’t too serious. The conversation morphed into TV shows and movies—something Juliana had very little experience with. She sat and listened to everyone gushing over their favorites and trashing the ones they didn’t like. She didn’t know what they were talking about most of the time, but it was great to see everyone’s personality come out. But her mind was elsewhere. She was worried about Kevin. Fifteen minutes went by and he hadn’t come back yet. Perhaps those phone calls he was expecting came in.
After another 20 minutes passed, and Colleen said she needed to leave to make her curfew. Everyone else agreed and migrated toward the bathrooms before they said their goodbyes. Kevin returned quietly when he found the room was clear. He trudged over to the nearest canvas and stared at it. He wasn’t really looking at the painting, but he couldn’t look away either. Juliana wasn’t sure what was wrong or what she could do for him, so she simply got up and joined him.
She slid in beside him quietly. He heard her coming, but he didn’t mind her presence. It was comforting that she cared, but he wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. The others made their way back into the common area to say goodnight. They all saw something was wrong with Kevin, but no one was comfortable enough to ask him if he was ok. Clearly he was a nice man, but honestly he was a stranger to them. He was cordial, but he kept them all at arm’s length.
“I’m gonna get outta here,” Selina said. “Drive safely. Goodnight, Juliana!”
Kevin mustered all the energy he had left to form a smile. “Have a good evening,” he said.
When Selina passed by, the smiled sunk back into his chin and the droopy eyes returned.
“What is wrong?” Juliana asked.
He looked at her, his newest friend, and he wanted to share with her what pained him so much. She deserved to know. He felt like their friendship was more than just running into each other at museums and chauffeuring her to art club gatherings. Juliana was a true friend, and he wanted and needed those kinds of people in his hollow life. In time, he would confess it. But not that night. “I,” he hesitated, “I…I’m nervous about an important meeting tomorrow.” He hated lying to her, but he couldn’t avoid it. At least, he felt like he no other recourse. Neither the time nor the place was appropriate for the tale that accompanied his sadness. In his mind, he made a note to apologize for lying when he finally found the courage to confess.