Time in Willow Creek: 11 months, 1 week, 3 days
A few days after Juliana’s birthday, the girls were hanging out in Hillary’s room; she was up to her old tricks again. “Sooooo, when are you gonna ask Kevin out?”
Juliana was caught off guard. “I…I’m not?”
“Come on now, Juliana! How long are you going to play this game?”
“Playing hard to get? Acting like you’re not interested? You got to come out of that shell sometime, girl! Contrary to what I said last month, you’re not a little girl anymore!”
“But…” Juliana was unsure how to explain the realization she had a little less than a month ago. She knew Hillary wouldn’t understand. “He is my friend.”
“Yes, and he’s GORGEOUS and totally likes you! You don’t see it? I mean, you have to know this, right?”
Juliana shrugged. It wasn’t that she didn’t see. She simply wasn’t going to do anything about it.
“Juliana… Just call the man and ask him to go to the movies or something. Maybe things haven’t gone anywhere because y’all don’t spend enough time alone. And, if he’s really just a friend like you say, then at least you’ll still have a good time, right?”
Juliana sighed and conceded. She knew her friend enough to understand that she was not going to let it go. Besides, hanging out with Kevin was never a bad idea. “Ok. I call him and we go out one time!” She picked up the phone and dialed his number.
Hillary danced provocatively in her seat singing, “Juliana’s getting a boooooyfriend. Juliana’s getting a boooooyfriend.”
Juliana rolled her eyes.
“Hi Kevin … Yes, I’m ok … Do you want to go to the movies? … … … … Of course … … Ok … Bye bye.”
“Well? What did he say?”
“He say he only goes if you are there.”
“What? But, that’s not how it’s supposed to be!”
Juliana smiled and shrugged again.
“What in the world is going on with that man? Oh well. Let’s just go outside and wait for him. I’ll get to the bottom of this. Don’t you worry!”
Kevin lived in Oasis Springs, so it took him about 20 minutes to get to Umbrage Manor. When he arrived, Hillary called shotgun, and Juliana slipped into the backseat.
“Good evening, ladies. It’s lovely to see you again as always, Hillary.”
Kevin’s car was smelled sweet and musky like him. Hillary took a deep, long whiff and was a wee bit jealous that Juliana got to smell him all the time. “The pleasure is always mine.”
He tried a bit of small talk, but seeing as how she had nothing going on in life worth sharing, that conversation went bust. Luckily, Newcrest was about the same distance away as Oasis Springs was, so it didn’t take them long to get to the theater. When they got inside, Kevin insisted that he pay for their tickets; he said it was his treat. Hillary didn’t argue. They found the theater they were supposed to be in and settled in the comfy chairs.
“Juliana,” Hillary said, “can you get us some popcorn?” She handed her a twenty.
Juliana took the money and went back out to the lobby.
They both watched her leave. Kevin knew Hillary wanted to talk to him.
“Dude… What am I here for?”
“I…I just wanted to make sure she had a good time.”
“She wanted to have a good time with you, not me! You don’t know?”
“AHHH! You two are like the blind leading the blind! You don’t know that she has a huge crush on you?”
He sighed heavily. It was one thing for his best friend to speculate about her feelings, but it was another to hear from someone who knew her well. “Look… I know, ok? I mean, I don’t know for sure, but…I’ve been told.” Suddenly he began to feel guilty and questioned everything he had done. Had he made her feel this way? Was he too nice? Was he too insistent? Did they spend too much time together? “I’m just not looking for that with her. I didn’t want to give her the wrong impression.”
“Seriously, Kevin? That’s the answer you’re going with?”
“What? It’s the truth!”
“Don’t play dumb with me, Kevin. I know you like her too. I see the way you look at her! You do everything for her and take her everywhere… You’re practically dating her!”
It wasn’t the first time he had been told that, but it still bothered him. He didn’t see it that way, but it was clear that everyone else did. He wasn’t sure how to combat the speculations without curbing his actions which would ultimately hurt Juliana–something he wanted to avoid.
She continued. “Look…I know she’s a little young and all, but she’s great! She’s strong and sweet, super smart, talented, and she’s got a cute little sense of humor when she lets it out. You know all this, right? She’s a way better catch than I am.”
“Yeah, I do know that.” He smiled at the thought of it. “And, I do care about her, really. But, I just don’t want to force something that isn’t there, you know?”
“It’s there, Kevin! You just don’t want to see it!”
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. It felt like everyone was conspiring against him and were all part of some big secret. Even his sub-conscience was planting seeds of Juliana’s goodness in his mind lately. True, he always had a laundry list of reasons why he and Juliana should remain as friends, but the real issue was his readiness for a serious relationship. It had been almost nine years since his wife died, and about five since he stopped trying to replace her per her orders. He knew there would always be times of sadness when he thought of her, but was he really ready to completely move on with someone else? He wasn’t so sure. That was another hurdle he had to jump. Juliana brought painting back into his life, and he learned he could paint without betraying Caroline’s memory. Now he needed to learn that he could give his heart to someone without forgetting her. However, he wasn’t a fool. Everyone was saying the same thing. All of them couldn’t be wrong. He didn’t know what they saw that he couldn’t see, but he couldn’t disregard the chatter anymore. He and Juliana spent a lot of time together, but they were rarely ever alone. Perhaps if he spent some focused time with her, he would see it. Besides, if nothing came of it, at least he would have gotten to know his friend better.
“Ok,” he said. “If you’re absolutely sure this is what she wants, I’ll give it a shot. I’m not making any promises though.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way! Sooooo, you’re gonna ask her out then?”
“Seems like that’s what everyone wants me to do.”
“Good! And uhhh…make it soon.”
Hillary decided she wanted to get closer to the screen, so they moved to the middle of the theater when the previews began to roll. A few minutes later, Juliana found them in their new seats and brought the popcorn. She handed Hillary a bowl, but something was wrong.
“UGH! What is this Juliana?”
“Popcorn?” She was confused.
“It’s burnt!” The foul stench assaulted her nostrils and reeked havoc on her stomach. “Ugh! Get that away from me! Oh my God…oh my God…I’m gonna be sick!” She began breathing deeply trying to push down the feeling of nausea, but it wasn’t working. She jolted up and stepped on Juliana and Kevin’s toes as she ran to kneel before the porcelain throne.