Time in Willow Creek: 12 months, 2 weeks, 2 days
What began as a happy trip down memory lane quickly turned into a painful reminder of what day it was. Standing there, she was almost paralyzed by the onslaught of memories. As if the attack on her emotional state was not enough, her nose was being assaulted by the tantalizing scent of sautéing onions, mushrooms, and peppers. It was time for breakfast, and Harriett was whipping up her fluffy, buttery omelets. Juliana tried to straighten her posture and dry her face, but it was futile; the entire day was already ruined.
Hillary saw her from the kitchen window and sashayed out to comfort her and coax her inside. Whenever Juliana was sad, she assumed she simply missed home and never asked what specifically was wrong, and that morning was no different.
“Awww! No puppy face! It’ll get easier, Juliana,” she said.
Luckily that message fit the bill. She tried to be supportive, but just like her family, she wasn’t the best at comforting words.
Hillary ushered her inside and hoped a little food would perk her up. Juliana was dragging a bit, so Hillary went ahead and served herself. Harold was already in the kitchen fetching a plate from the cabinet. As soon as he turned and saw Juliana’s droopy face, he said, “You gon’ be all right?”
The smile that stretched across Hillary’s face shrunk. A few days ago, they had a moment; they both took half a baby step toward a healthier relationship. She knew it would be a long and slow process, but it didn’t erase the fact that it ate her up inside how much Harold liked Juliana. However, she kept it to herself.
They all met Harriett in the dining room and commenced a nice, family breakfast. Harold took a seat next to Juliana, so Hillary sat at the head of the table. That seating arrangement had become the norm as of late, still, Hillary said nothing. She started a conversation with her mother to keep herself in check. But, in her peripheral vision, she noticed Juliana was still upset by some malady unknown to her. Every now and then Harold would glance in Juliana’s direction almost like he was checking on her. Did he know what was wrong with her? How had they become so connected so fast? Why couldn’t he show the same interest in her? Hillary maintained her smile, but she could feel the heat rising up her cheeks.
She tried to continue the conversation with her mother, but her ear was glued to the other side of the table.
“You wanna go to the cemetery?” Harold asked. “I know he ain’t there, but I reckon it might help.”
Juliana attempted to smile and politely declined his offer. Hillary, however, had lost the will to hide her feelings and hurled her fork at the plate. It bounced slightly, landing on the table and slid toward Harold. The clang of metal hitting porcelain got everyone’s attention.
Harriett lightly dabbed her mouth with a napkin and tried to resist the urge to indulge in this tantrum. “You have something you wanna you say?” Her tone was low and calm.
She threw herself back into the chair with a scowl on her face. Harriett had that “I’m waiting” face.
“It isn’t fair!”
“What isn’t fair?” She was tempted to say “use your words” like she was instructing a toddler.
“He isn’t!” She pointed at him like a 5-year-old trying to pass blame. “I’m his daughter! She’s…she’s a stranger!”
The world felt like it stopped spinning. There was no sound. No movement. Only three pairs of wide eyes staring back at her. “I’ve been nothing but nice to you while you treat me like trash! She comes here and steals your heart! She steals everyone’s heart!”
Harold didn’t look phased by the accusation, but she wondered what he was thinking. And Juliana, well, she was already emotional.
Harriett threw her napkin at her plate. “Hillary! How dare you talk about Juliana that way! She is family, and you know it!”
The plates rattled from Hillary’s fist pounding the table. “This is what I’m talking about!” She jumped up from her seat and stormed upstairs. “Everybody only cares about what Juliana needs!”
Harriett jumped at the bang of the door slamming over head. Her eyes returned to her plate, darting back and forth from one corner to the other. She felt like she should have felt guilty about something but wasn’t sure what. Then she remembered Juliana was still there and conspicuously glanced in her direction to see if she could gauge her feelings. She didn’t look any more downcast than she was before, so Harriett assumed she was ok. Besides, this wasn’t Juliana’s first rodeo with Hillary’s hormone infused, insulting, emotional outbursts. She hoped Juliana wasn’t hurt. However, to her dismay, Juliana finished the bits of egg in her mouth and scooted her chair back from the table. Harriett panicked. She didn’t want to deal with another round of pissed off Juliana.
“She didn’t mean it. You know that, right?”
Juliana nodded and kept walking.
“You know you’re family, puddin!”
She paused and turned around. A couple of tears formed. “I just want to be alone.” She went upstairs.
“Let her go.”