Time in Willow Creek: 11 months, 3 weeks, 5 days
Juliana received an unexpected phone call one afternoon. It was Selina, and she invited her to the art center downtown. The invitation was a bit odd, but Juliana had never been to downtown before and was excited about seeing somewhere new. On the way there, her mind was full of speculations about what this art center would be like and how it was different from an art gallery and a museum. It was called Casbah Gallery, and it was a beautiful white building covered in windows that had their own artistic flair. It was located in a neighborhood nicknamed “the arts quarter.” The neighborhood was nice enough, and the buildings were covered in graffiti but done in good taste. It was actually quite normal to see people tagging buildings and street corners.
“Hey you,” Selina said when she spotted Juliana. “It’s good of you to come. You wanna look around before we get started?”
“Ok.” She was teeming with nervous energy and couldn’t wait to unveil this mystery.
The first and main area of the art center was an art gallery, and the women took some time to gaze upon the colorful creations.
There weren’t that many pieces, and Juliana was so anxious about whatever was awaiting her, she didn’t spend as much time taking them in as she usually did. When they were finished with the gallery, Selina said, “follow me.” She led her through the common area which contained a bar to order concessions, tables and chairs, and a hookah machine; one could find those things everywhere downtown. They exited the building, and Juliana couldn’t take the suspense any longer.
“Where are we going?”
“There,” she said and pointed her head toward the prepared area on the wall. “Only brave, serious painters can tackle something like this.”
“Paint the wall?” She sounded nervous.
“It’s called a mural.”
“Mural,” she said slowly as she recalled one of her early lessons with Harriett when she learned how certain letters sound differently when certain letters followed them. She spelled the word silently and found that the word was exactly the same in her native tongue. What they were about to do made sense, but she still felt uneasy about it. Usually it was illegal. “It’s ok?”
“Yeah! You see that blue tape around it?”
“Tagging used to be a serious problem around here, so they banned it for a while. That caused a huge ruckus, so they compromised.”
“You know…like, when you make it so that everybody wins? So, to satisfy the artists, they lifted the ban. To satisfy the tight wads who frowned on beauty that is graffiti, they designate areas where you can do it. Wherever you see this blue tape, you can tag!”
Tag, Juliana thought. Some of the Simlish slang words were funny to her.
“So, are you ready to do this?”
“Ok,” she said nervously. This would be the first time she would create something that strangers would see, and the thought terrified her yet ignited the flames of her creative passion.
“Ok.” Selina took a piece of paper out of her pocket. “This is what we’re going to do. It’s gonna take all afternoon and is gonna be a lot of physical work. So, stop and stretch when you need to.”
“How do we start?”
“Well, first we’ll do the background, so we’ll paint this whole area white. But after that, just pick a part and paint it! It’ll come together in the end. Are you ready?”
They got brushes and buckets of white paint and got started.
The area was much larger than Juliana had ever dreamed she would paint. The top of the area was about a foot and a half taller than she was, and they needed step stools to reach it. As a passionate painter, Juliana used her whole body when she painted much like musicians do when they play. She often made big, long strokes, and her torso swayed following her hand with the horizontal strokes, and her knees bent with the southbound strokes; she had a rhythm. That was just the way she painted. However, it seemed to provide good practice for this event. Although her arms had to stretch further than they were used to, long strokes were not foreign to her. Neither her arms nor knees grew tired of the routine. Her history of walking place to place had conditioned her feet and legs to endure the four-hour ordeal. Selina didn’t do terribly, but she took a couple of breaks. At the very end, she gave Juliana the honor of finishing up and put her initials on it. She was so proud and took a picture of it and sent it to Kevin, Hillary, and Paul.
“I’m starving. You?”
“My treat,” Selina said as they went back inside. They walked up to the concession stand. “Order whatever you want.”
Painting all afternoon made Juliana forget that there was an even bigger mystery to uncover. Why had she invited her out in the first place? Didn’t she dislike her? They ordered some food and sat at one of the tables. It was a bit awkward, and they ate in silence. Juliana didn’t know enough about her to start a conversation, and Selina was thinking about the things she needed to say to her. When they finished eating, a young man wearing an apron came and took their trash away.
Show time, I guess. Selina cleared her throat. “Well… I guess you’re wondering about why I invited you out.” She didn’t wait for a response. “I was…kinda mean to you a while back and… Well, that wasn’t cool and you didn’t deserve it and I’m sorry.”
She let the apology sink in before she went on to explain her behavior. “I used to know Kevin long time ago back when him and his wife used to be in the art club.”
Juliana was amazed that she had been around that long and wondered why she wasn’t in charge.
“I had a huge crush on him. Huge. But he was married, so you know. When they stopped showing up, I found out that his wife was sick and died suddenly. I felt so bad for him. Soon enough it was clear he wasn’t coming back, so I had to forget about him. Then, all these years later he comes back! It was unreal. I thought I would come out of my skin! But, he didn’t remember me. He looked at me like a stranger.”
Juliana felt sorry for Selina.
“I’m not afraid of anything, and I do and say what I want. But when I’m around Kevin, I get so tongue-tied and skittish. And when I did work up the nerve to talk to him, you were always around. That man never lets you out of his sight!”
Kevin’s feelings were inside a locked box in Juliana’s mind, but the more people brought them up, the more security she needed to add to make sure they stayed there. The last thing she needed in her life was to be daydreaming about a relationship like a 14-year-old.
“And then, at the party, you were so pretty. I knew without even looking at him that he was gonna fall for you.” Her eyes dropped to the table.
“But, you looked nice.”
“Juliana, don’t. You don’t need to make me feel better, ok? I know what I am. I’m old, I have no style, I’m plain, I have an attitude, and I don’t blame him for not noticing me. He has you… And you’re a way better catch than me.”
That would have been the opportunity to share their relationship status with her, but she stayed silent.
“Anyway, I just wanted you to know why I can’t come back to art club… And, I don’t hate you. No hard feelings. You’re cool people. I can see why everyone likes you so much.”