Time in Willow Creek: 11 months, 3 weeks, 2 days
Juliana was so nervous. She had interacted with these children several times a week for a good while. It’s not like they were strangers, and it definitely wasn’t the case of them not liking her. Actually, they were all pleasantly surprised when Harriett announced who was reading the next story; she only told her special friend, Manu. Despite their verbal approval and eager eyes falling on her, she could feel her hands trembling. She sat in front of the children and smiled awkwardly. Harriett was in the back encouraging her silently with her bright eyes and nodding head. Little Manu was beaming as well. She cleared her throat. “This book is called ‘The Berenstain’s B Book.'” She breathed a sigh of relief when she said the authors’ name without stammering. Harriett had been coaching her on the pronunciation for two weeks. That was the hardest part of reading that particular book aloud. Getting over that hurdle put her more at ease and able to enjoy the special time with the children.
She flipped the page and read a bit more enthusiastically. “Big brown.” She turned the page. “Big brown bear.” She looked up at the children and smiled nervously and hoped they didn’t think the book was silly. “Big brown bear, blue bull.”
“Why do all these words begin with B?” A boy in rear whispered to the girl next to him.
“It’s called the B Book, stupid,” she said.
“Shhh,” Harriett quieted the children. “You keep saying things like that, you’re gonna find yourself upstairs in the corner!”
“No, Miss Humphries,” the girl pleaded.
“Mmm hmm.” She was mad she missed the next few pages.
“Big brown bear, blue bull, beautiful baboon, blowing bubbles, biking backward.”
“They’re riding backward?” Manu shouted.
“Yes,” Juliana said. “They are! Big brown bear, blue bull, beautiful baboon, blowing bubbles, biking backward, bump…”
All the children gasped.
Even Harriett got surprised with that one and wondered what was going to happen next. Naturally, all of the children got a bit loud with the cliffhanger. Harriett had to settle them before Juliana went on.
“Big brown bear, blue bull,”–some of the children had caught on to the repetitiveness and joined her–“beautiful baboon, blowing bubbles, biking backward, bump black bug’s banana boxes!”
“Ewwww,” the girls said. They didn’t appreciate the big, black beetle and bruised bananas on the page.
Juliana read on, and by the time the story was finished, all the children–and Harriett–were reciting the story with her, and it was beautiful. It was the most fun she had experienced since the Windenburg party.
“Big brown bear, blue bull, beautiful baboon, blowing bubbles, biking backward, bump black bug’s banana boxes AND Billy Bunny’s bread basket AND Brother Bob’s baseball bus AND Buster Beagle’s bagpipe bugle band and…”
The audience’s eyes were wide with anticipation. Only the sound of other patron’s typing could be heard.
“And that’s what…” She turned the page and read the last sentence slowly. “Broke Baby Bird’s balloon.”
“Awwwwwww,” everyone said.
“Ok! Let’s give Miss Juliana a hand,” Harriett shouted.
The group broke, but they didn’t go anywhere. They stood together trying to recite the entire book without messing up. Of course, some of them thought it was a competition. Harriett was beside herself. She couldn’t have asked for a better response and good behavior from the children.
Juliana sat quietly and watched them try to out-do each other, and she was pleased. However, she still needed the approval of her special friend and waited for an opportunity to speak with him. “Manu… Manu,” she called.
He turned around.
“How did I do?”
“You were awesome, Miss Juliana!”
The kid in the red vest was the smarty pants from the back of the room. He heard their brief conversation and decided to stick a pin in it. He turned to Manu and said, “You’re still a dork. Just because Miss Juliana likes you doesn’t mean anything.”
Before Juliana had a chance to contest this accusation, Mallory–Rebecca’s youngest daughter–shouted, “I’m cooler than ALL of you! Miss Juliana lives with my grandma and I can see her anytime I want!”
Juliana chuckled at her sudden popularity. She was never “the cool one” at home. It amused her to think she had to cross an ocean to be cool and fought over by a group of seven and eight-year-olds.
Harriett was giving her the eye, and she knew she needed to make her escape. “I’m glad you like the story. Thank you for the kindness. I see you all again soon.”
She got up, grabbed Mallory, and left the library. Kara Cole–the librarian–was going to be on maternity leave soon, so Harriett hired an additional librarian. Although he mainly existed to cover Kara, Harriett thought having a third person around would be a good idea. At 69 years old, she wasn’t getting any younger. And, with a new grandchild on the way, she needed to spend more time at home anyway.
Harriett took Juliana and Mallory to Hogan’s Burger Barn to celebrate Juliana’s success. Although Hogan’s was a burger joint, their desserts were fantastic. It was around dinner time, and Harriett never allowed dessert for dinner, but this was a special occasion.
The ladies perused the menu and decided on what they wanted. “Granny! Can I do the order pleeeeeeease?” She always felt so grown up when she told the server what everyone wanted.
“I think we should let Juliana do it. Don’t you think?”
She hung her head. “I guess.”
“Now, tell me what you want, but whisper it to me. We want Miss Juliana to read it, ok?”
Mallory hopped off the stool and whispered her order to her grandmother.
“Ok, thank you.” She turned to Juliana and pointed at the menu. “She wants this and this, and I want this and that. Got it?”
Juliana looked at the menu and studied the words. Mallory’s cupcake was a word she had never seen, and it made her a bit nervous. “Butter…butters-k–butters-kah–
“Butterscotch,” Mallory yelled.
Harriett’s eyes darted at her, and she immediately zipped her lips. “That’s a tough one. Just separate the syllables. Remember what I said? Don’t worry about trying to get it all together on the first try.”
She repeated it slowly, looking at the words separately to see if they made sense. “Butter scotch. What is that?”
Harriett was stumped.
“It’s creamy and yummy,” Mallory yelled again.
The server came just in time. “Good evenin’ folks. Can I interest you in our specials tonight?”
Juliana glanced at Harriett who shook her head. “No, thank you. We would like a lemon bar, a cup of coffee, a vanilla cupcake, a…a butter scotch cupcake, and two glasses of milk.”
The server smiled at Juliana’s slow pronunciation butterscotch. She probably never realize how hard it was to say until she heard her struggling with it. “Very good.” She collected the menu. “I’ll take that and will return with your goodies soon!”
“So Mallory, tell Miss Juliana what you thought about her story today.”
“Well, at first I thought it was a baby book, but then I thought it was fun because we got to read with you kinda. I think you did a good job.”
“The words might have been small, but sometimes putting a bunch of small words together can be tough!
“I know I would have been up there tripping over all those B words! That was a hard book to read out loud! And you did a wonderful job, Juliana! The kids really enjoyed it.”
Suddenly Mallory began to wave at someone behind Harriett. “Mama!”
Harriett tried to turn around. “Your mama’s here?”
“Mama and daddy are here!”
“Here we are, ladies,” the server said. “The desserts and the drinks. Can I get you anything else?”
“No, thank you,” Juliana said.
“All right. You ladies have a good evenin’ now, ya hear?”
“Mama come sit with us!”
“No, that’s ok. You enjoy your granny and Miss Juliana. I’m gonna sit with daddy.”
Harriett had her mouth full and couldn’t properly speak, so Rebecca came closer to see how their day went. “How did the story hour go?”
“It was great,” Harriett said. “The kids behaved for the most part, and they enjoyed Juliana’s book so much! And it was so hard to read!”
“Is that so? Congratulations, Juliana.”
“You and Jack out on a date?”
“If you want to call it that. We figured since you had Mallory for the night, we’d get out for a bit.”
Harriett was glad to hear it. Jack was a very sweet man, and Rebecca could be very cold at times. Sometimes she wondered if she really loved him given her history with her ex-husbands.
Rebecca turned to her daughter and put on her serious face. It was really her everyday face, but it was serious enough. “You’re going to be good for granny, right? I don’t want her bringing you home early.”
“I’m always good, mama,” she said innocently.
Rebecca snorted. “Tell that to your dead fish. Mama, tell daddy I said hello. I’ll be by next weekend.”
“Ok. Y’all have fun.” She chuckled as she thought of a few reasons she didn’t want her child home early. She was glad to see they still desired each other.
“Sooooooo,” Mallory said, “if you want to make sure I stay out of trouble, you’re gonna have to read me loooots of books, Miss Juliana.”
She grinned. “I can do that.”