Time in Willow Creek: 11 months, 2 weeks, 2 days
Kevin called Juliana and asked her out on a proper date a week after the fiasco at the movies. He found out very quickly that Hillary was just as strong and persuasive as her mother, and if he didn’t keep his end of the bargain, he would hear from her; he didn’t want to experience what that was like. Juliana was excited and proud that her plan to be patient and let things evolve naturally worked although she thought the change was a bit sudden—almost forced. Nevertheless, she was pleased. Her life seemed to be taking shape the way everyone said it should go. If she were at home, her mother would be expecting her to be nearing engagement. All of her old friends were probably in the same position if they weren’t already married. In her current home, she got the feeling Harriett expected the same thing from Hillary the way she kept trying to push Jase on her. In a way, it was comforting to know that her two worlds weren’t that different from each other. She hoped to have a promising night and make everyone on both sides of the ocean proud.
As soon as Juliana got off the phone with Kevin, Hillary dragged her to Newcrest to shop for the perfect dress. It was an ordeal to say the least. The two friends did not share the same taste in clothes. Juliana lucked up with Hillary’s old dress for the Windenburg party. What Hillary was picking out looked nothing like it. Everything she wanted was short with plunging necklines. Juliana preferred long dresses because she didn’t like her legs; she thought they were too big. She didn’t mind thin straps, but she didn’t want to expose herself too much; it felt deceitful. Perhaps if things went well and more dates were on the horizon, she would consider it. But, for the first date, she didn’t want to give the wrong impression–especially when she wasn’t sure it should have been happening. They shopped and shopped and shopped and fought and shopped some more. It seemed like the shopping would never end. Even Hillary began to grow tired of it. The novelty of shopping hadn’t wore off yet for Juliana, and she still had fun. Finally, several hours later, they found a dress they both agreed on. They found three, actually. Two were alike and had more of Juliana’s requirements. They were long and colorful with thin straps but not revealing. The third one was more like Hillary, but Juliana loved it. It was a bouncy, off-white, short dress with a belt and a ruffled v-neck with a little bit of a plunge. She said it was the third or fourth date dress.
The girls spent the rest of the afternoon in Hillary’s room getting Juliana gussied up for her big first date; her first real date. Kevin arrived a bit early that evening. He felt oddly nervous and took a few deep breaths before he mounted the stairs to Umbrage Manor.
“Good evening, Mrs. Humphries,” he said when she answered the door.
“Oh please, call me Harriett! Come on in.” She closed the door behind him. “Have a seat. I’ll go and see what those girls are up to.”
“I’m a little early. No need to rush them.”
“No, I’ll rush them. Hillary treats that child like a live baby doll! She’ll be making her up all night if I let her!”
He laughed and watched her go upstairs. It was sometimes easy to forget the Humphries were not Juliana’s real family. They all loved her so much and had woven her into the fabric of their lives; Kevin loved them all for it. He too had taken on a guardian angel role in Juliana’s life, and he wanted to know everyone who was responsible for her being in his life. When he turned around to enter the living room, he saw Harold. He was an enigma: always there, but not there. Kevin saw that his wife and daughter probably ignored him a lot because, on the surface, he seemed to be disinterested in everything. But the way Juliana talked about him, Kevin knew there was more to Harold than meets the eye.
Kevin stepped in the room and looked around. He had only been inside the house one other time. It felt warm and inviting exactly the way Harriett intended it to feel. “Good evening, Mr. Humphries.”
Harold cut his eyes at him. “Evenin.” He remembered him from Juliana’s party. No one introduced him to Kevin, but he figured out he was the mystery man whom Hillary teased her about and was lighting up her life. He thought he seemed like a nice guy, but he didn’t like him. The way he dressed and combed his hair said a lot about him. Harold called him a yuppie and assumed Kevin was privileged and didn’t have to work for his money; those were not Harold’s kind of people.
He sat down and watched a few minutes of Harold’s program. “Ahhh, comedy!”
Now, Kevin was a serious businessman. He had no problems with confidence. He commanded boardrooms and slayed competition with his charm and quick thinking. But, sitting there with Harold made him feel like a nervous 16-year-old again trying to impress a girl’s father for the first time. “You have a fine home, Mr. Humphries.” Harold wasn’t Juliana’s father, but Kevin still felt like his opinion of him mattered.
After a few failed attempts of flattery and small talk, Kevin came to himself. All of that was silly, and Harold clearly didn’t care for it. Besides, he didn’t need to impress him anyway. Things weren’t like that with Juliana, and this date was just a formality. He took a few steps back and thought about the more than meets the eye Harold. What would he want to talk about? Kevin did something unexpected and a bit daring; he sat next to Harold. He smiled and watched Harold stiffen as his space was invaded.
Meanwhile, upstairs, Harriett was trying to hurry Hillary along. Juliana stood in front of Hillary’s full length mirror and inspected herself; she felt like a princess. Back home, she could only dream about wearing nice dresses and makeup.
“Look at you, puddin! You look so pretty! I thought Hillary was gonna have you looking like a clown with all that makeup she put on you.”
Hillary’s head jerked back and face wrinkled. “I’m right here, mama.”
“You did a good job on her. And I’m glad you didn’t put her in one of your two-bit floozy dresses!”
Her face scrunched even more. “Mama!”
Juliana stifled laughter. She didn’t know what “two-bit floozy” meant, but it sounded funny; Harriett always had a way to make things sound funny. However, she could guess after seeing what Hillary was picking out for her earlier that day.
“What? A man likes a woman who dresses respectable…like Juliana!” She tossed her hands toward Juliana and rested her case.
Hillary rolled her eyes. “Whatever, mama.”
Back downstairs, Kevin had started a conversation that was more Harold’s speed. “Mr. Humphries…forgive me if I’ve made a terrible assumption, but you look like the kind of guy who knows a thing or two about fishing.”
That certainly got Harold’s attention. It startled him a bit because usually yuppies didn’t know anything about doing things with their hands. Perhaps there was more to Kevin than meets the eye.
“Yes indeed,” Harold said.
“I knew it. I haven’t fished in a long time, but it was one of my favorite things to do when I was young.”
“I know…I don’t look like I know anything about fishing.”
“You’re still a boy.”
“Oh, heh. Yeah.” Kevin failed to remember that compared to Harold, he would always still be a boy. “If you’re up to it, maybe you could teach me a thing or two.”
Harold didn’t answer, but it was fine. Kevin knew that his opinion of him was conditional. He didn’t expect to win him over in one conversation.
At last, the ladies of the house came marching down the stairs and spilled into the living room. Hillary and Harriett stood in the doorway and watched Kevin’s pleasing reaction to Juliana. To their surprise, Harold was pleased too, and they were touched.
Kevin arose and stood in front of Juliana. He was glad to see “party Juliana” again, but he kept his composure. After embarrassing himself far too much last time, he was keen on not acting like a teenager. “You look great, Juliana.”
They chatted for a minute or two about where they were going, and Harold watched Kevin’s every move. He watched where his eyes went, where he kept his hands, how close he stood to her, and even how eager his smile was. So far, Kevin was doing ok in his book.
“Y’all can chat when you get there,” Harriett yelled. “G’on now! It’s getting late!” She ushered them toward the door.
Just before Kevin crossed the threshold, Harold called his name.
“You better treat her right.” He turned the TV back on went back to being Invisible Harold.
Kevin smiled. “Of course.”
They were off.
He took her to a cafe in Newcrest for dessert; he knew how early Harriett served dinner. Besides, the venue had a live piano player, and he knew Juliana would love it. The car ride was silent and awkward. He was still wrestling with how fast things had escalated with Juliana; he wasn’t expecting things to go that way. At least not yet if at all. Something about the situation seemed off, but he was unsure how to broach the subject. She could feel the tension emanating from him. It made the uncertainty she felt even stronger.
When they arrived and were seated, Juliana ordered a cannoli, and he ordered a croissant. She didn’t realize it, but she was drifting away from the table. The soothing melodies from the piano called to her, and she had to answer. Kevin didn’t mind. He loved to watch her enjoy the things she loved.
When she came back to the table, she smiled awkwardly and looked at her plate. Her dessert looked so delicious, and its sweet scent traveled up her nostrils, but somehow she couldn’t eat. She didn’t feel as comfortable with him as she thought she would. He hadn’t touched his plate either. As he was watching her fidget nervously, he saw something in her that resonated with his uncertainty. That was when it all made sense. The date wasn’t her idea at all. He knew how Hillary pushed her around. It was never in a bad way, but oftentimes Juliana did things because she was told to. Hearing about her alleged feelings for him made him a bit nervous about the future of their friendship. He wasn’t interested in a dating relationship with her and hoped that Hillary and Marq had just seen what they wanted to see. It would potentially ruin their date, but he thought it would serve them well to get everything out in the open on the front end to spare them an evening of awkwardness.
“Juliana… We need to talk about this.”
She nodded. She wanted to clear things up too.
He struggled with how to begin. Did he accuse Hillary of putting him up to this? Did he admit to knowing how she felt about him? Did he tell her he didn’t think it was a good idea and be done with it? He had her attention, and she was waiting. He exhaled and opened his mouth, hoping the right thing would come out.
“When we were at the movies, Hillary gave me the impression that you…umm…that you…that you want our friendship to be…different. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
She nodded again. She was so nervous.
He was relieved and didn’t want to have to say the actual words. Saying the words would make him reckon his own changing feelings. He knew everything Marq and Hillary said was true; he could feel it. He just wasn’t ready. He knew his laundry list of excuses were simply that: excuses. The crux of the matter was something he had not shared with anyone; not even Marq. He hinted at it, but he had not confessed that he was afraid to give his heart to someone again. It conflicted him because it was something he so desperately wanted to do, but it scared him. He had a history of losing people he loved, and it made him very cautious. Juliana was someone whom he thought he could eventually give his heart to, but when he combined the excuses with the fear, it yielded the struggle he had been feeling for a while whenever he was in Juliana’s presence.
“Ok. Well, is it true? Is that what you really want?” God, I hope not. I don’t want to break her heart.
She had been thinking about it all day despite how excited she was about that night. Her thoughts began with giving serious thought to what she wanted in the short term. Her whole life, her parents groomed her for the day she would leave their house to join her husband and begin a new life. They focused on her manners, how she dressed, and had her hone certain skills that would ensure her success as a homemaker. When she got older and became interested in boys, they taught her about the qualities she should look for in a man and how he should treat her. Sure, in between all of that she had her painting and piano which they encouraged, but it was clear what was the most important to them. In their neck of the woods, everyone got married somewhere between 18 and 22. It was time for her to be thinking that way. She liked Kevin, they were friends, and he cared about her so why not him? But, that afternoon, as she was sitting in Hillary’s room letting her style her hair and beat her face, it occurred to her that she wasn’t at home with her parents. The life she was expected to live didn’t even exist anymore. And, according to her mother, she wasn’t going back. Her exact words were “be something great.” Could it be that she could determine what the something was? Was that her mother’s way of giving her permission to do something different? To shape her life the way she wanted? It was a new and exciting thought for her.
As she thought about what her mother had potentially said, her thoughts drifted to her parent’s marriage. They grew up when arranged marriages were still common in Monte Vista, but they were lucky enough to know each other and be in love before they got married. Their love was strong, and Juliana always wanted love like that. But, love was also hard. They struggled a lot. They went through many terrible things together, and their love was tested. Additionally, their lives were hectic. Mrs. Sepulveda birthed 12 children; she was always pregnant. Her life was filled with children and house cleaning and cooking. Work work work work work all the time. Juliana had no idea what her mother liked to do; she had no spare time. She didn’t even know what her mother’s favorite color was. Even though her life didn’t have to mirror her mother’s, it was the only life she had ever planned for. But, if she was completely honest, domestic life was not something she wanted to begin anytime soon. She enjoyed painting and playing the piano for as long as she cared to. Hanging with her friends and not having to think about how long she was out and when she needed to return home was attractive. She enjoyed deciding what she wanted to do on a given day. True, if she and Kevin dated, they didn’t have to get married right away, but in her mind they would be moving toward marriage. She hadn’t assimilated enough to understand that casual dating was a viable option for her.
She snapped out of her thoughts and prepared to answer him. She knew what she wanted to say, but she was nervous. One tiny word was going to change the trajectory of the life for which she had been groomed. One tiny word would break the chain of Sepulveda history. Just one word declared her independence. That one word took her from being a little girl who blindly obeyed her elders to being a young woman who would find her own place in the world.
“Is this what you want?”
She took a deep breath and said, “No.”
He had been holding his breath and happily exhaled. “That’s good to know. I’m not there either.”
She was relieved too.
“Maybe sometime in the future we’ll feel differently, but right now I love that you’re my friend.”
The pressure in the room had been released, and the two friends felt lighter. No more allowing other people to influence how they felt. Whatever happened with them would be their decision and their decision only.
“I do want to say one thing and get it out of the way so I can quit thinking about it.” He chuckled nervously as he hesitated for just a moment. “I think you’re really beautiful.”
She blushed and thanked him.
“I’m not saying that because you’re dressed up and looking nice, but you’re a beautiful person. You have a great personality and so many awesome qualities I think are attractive. Your inner beauty makes you even more beautiful on the outside.”
Once again, he made her speechless. She hid her face behind her hands and peeked at him through her fingers.
He laughed at her bashfulness. The way she could be serious one moment and silly the next was refreshing. “Sorry. I probably shouldn’t have said that seeing as how we’re not… But, I just had to tell you that. Sorry if it was too much.”
“It’s ok. It’s good to hear.”
As loving as her parents were, verbal intimacy wasn’t very commonplace in the Sepulveda house. Sure, her parents praised her when she did a good job on things, but they never really told her how they felt about her as a person. Receiving compliments from Kevin was a new experience, and she liked it. She needed it. He made her feel stronger and was slowly rebuilding her confidence.
They finally ate their desserts and talked like they usually did. Lately, he had been telling her about his work as an investor and how it worked. She didn’t understand it all, but it was interesting to her. She told him she finally received a reply from her mother. He was extremely happy for her. They talked a little bit about Hillary and their friendship. He encouraged her to stand up for herself more often and not let Hillary push her around.
It was late, and he wanted to get Juliana back home, so they left and headed back to Willow Creek. He pulled up in front of Umbrage Manor, and all the lights in the house were out except for the ones in the living room. Kevin smiled as he walked her up the stairs. He usually didn’t come in when he dropped her off, but he changed his mind this time for there was something he needed to do. She was surprised when he followed her inside.
“You go on upstairs. I just want to speak to Harold.”
“Oh. Ok.” She stood in front of him searching for words to express. Luckily, he beat her to it.
“I’m glad we did this,” he said. “We should hangout more often… Well, unless of course you don’t–
“No. I like to hangout with you.” She was grinning.
He grinned too. “Ok. I’d better let you go up then.”
“Goodnight, Kevin.” She wanted to hug him but decided against it.
“Goodnight, Juliana. See you in a couple days.” He also resisted the urge to hug her and watched her disappear up the stairs before he stepped into the living room.
Harold was still on the comedy channel.
“Goodnight, Mr. Humphries. Juliana is in her room safe and sound.”
Harold didn’t say anything, so Kevin turned around and walked toward the door. Just before he turned the knob to leave Umbrage Manor, he heard Harold turn off the TV.