Time in Willow Creek: 12 months, 3 weeks, 1 day
It was an art club night. Juliana had been conflicted and anxious all day. She was dreading the phone call that would inevitably come; she hadn’t decided what she was going to say. She briefly considered sending him a text saying she couldn’t make it, but that would just open a can of worms. He would want to know why, but she wouldn’t want to lie about it and would give a cryptic response. Her response would make him even more anxious, and he would probably press her until he knew what the real deal was, but she wasn’t ready to have that conversation or any conversation with him. However, the inevitable happened, and he called to give her an ETA. Just before she was going to tell him she wasn’t going to make it, Hillary came bounding around the corner.
“Is that Kevin? Can I talk to him?”
Juliana was confused but a bit relieved. She told Kevin to hold on while she handed Hillary the phone.
“Hi Kevin! I’m fine, and you? Good, listen, I was wondering if I could have a favor… Well, I have an appointment in Windenburg this evening, and I figure since y’all are going there anyway, I could bum a ride… Thank you! One more thing… Would it be ok if I did this on a regular basis? It would make things so much easier for me… Really? You don’t mind?
“Goodie! Thank you so much, Kevin! Uh huh… Ok… See ya soon.” She handed the phone back to Juliana and walked away. “That boyfriend of yours is such a sweetheart!”
He’s not my–her thought was interrupted by shallow breaths and a hot face. How could a few handwritten sentences on a sheet of paper control her life? She felt like Mamá had ruined everything. Angry tears tried to sneak up on her, but she dashed up to her room before they launched their attack. She issued a counterstrike and kept them at bay. She couldn’t break down. Not yet. She didn’t want to create a reason for an inquisition when Hillary came to fetch her later. She had to keep busy to take her mind off it. At her computer, she played Keyboard Commander; Harriett got her a license from the library. Her typing skills had improved so much in the last month, and she was up to 17 words per minute.
Within an hour and a half, Hillary entered the room to announce Kevin’s arrival, not that she couldn’t hear the hum of the engine right outside her balcony.
She took a deep breath. “I’m not going.”
Hillary’s head jerked back a little. “Why?”
“I’m just not.” Her body was so still in that chair. Even the slightest movement would have cracked the dam.
Hillary inspected her a bit closely. “You feeling ok?”
Juliana nodded quickly.
She narrowed her eyes and backed away suspiciously. “Ok,” she said slowly. “I guess I’ll hear about whatever it is later.”
“Ok. Whatever. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
“Bye.” As soon as she heard Hillary’s heels clacking down the stairs, the dam broke, and the tears came.
Hillary sat in the front seat like she always did whenever she, Juliana, and he went somewhere. “Hey.”
“Hi,” Kevin said suspiciously as if there was more than one I in the word. He looked around her at the front door. “Where’s Juliana?”
“She’s not coming,” she said casually.
His eyes narrowed this time. “Is she all right?”
She shrugged. “She said she was.” Her eyes were following her hands as she dug through her purse for a stick of lip gloss.
Her tone was too nonchalant for him. “You believe her?”
“She looked fine.” She pulled down the visor, flipped open the mirror, and applied the shiny goop.
“Hmmm.” He took one last look at the front door, put the car in gear, and drove off. “Oh! I’m such an idiot. Congratulations! Juliana told me the news a while ago, but I haven’t seen you. Are you excited?”
“I’m… I’m getting there I guess,” she said uncomfortably.
He nodded. “I can understand that.” There was silence for a few more blocks. They weren’t friends and didn’t know much about each other except what Juliana told them. They weren’t even out of Willow Creek yet when Kevin decided he needed more clarity on Juliana. “Is she feeling well?”
She smirked. His concern was cute. “She looked ok. And she said she felt fine.”
He nodded, keeping his eyes on the road. They had just crossed the border into Newcrest. “Was she upset?”
“No? I don’t think so.” There was mild annoyance in her voice.
They drove through Newcrest to the bridge that bypassed downtown and dumped them on the Interstate. “So, she didn’t say why she couldn’t come?”
She slapped her thighs and huffed. “No, Kevin!” She glared at him for a few seconds. “I’ve told you all I know! Maybe she’s having lady troubles or something.” She waved him off hoping to be rid of the conversation.
He put up his free hand in surrender. “I’m sorry. I-I didn’t mean to be annoying. I’m sure she just needs a break.” He nodded. “I don’t even know why I keep asking you about it.”
She snorted. “I know why,” she said under her breath.
“How about some music, huh?”
They didn’t speak of it again.
* * *
The next morning, Hillary found Juliana watching a movie and decided she needed to be brought up to speed immediately.
“What in the world happened last night?” There was urgency in her voice.
Juliana opened her mouth to answer, but she was caught off guard and didn’t know what to say. Fortunately–or, unfortunately–it was a rhetorical question and Hillary continued.
“You two are so cotton pickin blind! I have never seen two people more stupid than you and Kevin! What in the world are you guys doing?? It’s painstakingly obvious to EVERYONE except you two how much you like each other, but you two idiots don’t see it!”
Naturally, Juliana took offense to that. But Hillary was not done.
“This guy is so freakin in love with you! I had to listen to him whimper and whine about where you were like half the ride there! I don’t know what you’re waiting on, but I don’t see how much clearer it can get for you! Kevin is in love with you! WAKE UP!”
She came to herself when she realized she had been yelling–and insulting. “I’m so sorry, Juliana! I-It must be my hormones being all screwy again. I don’t think either of you are stupid,” she said in a calmer tone. “But… I can’t pretend to understand why you two aren’t together. And…ok, maybe you don’t see it, and…well, despite what I think I guess that’s ok. I just… I just…”
She clasped her hand against her mouth as the hormones continued their attack.
Juliana looked surprised yet skeptical.
Hillary dried her eyes and swallowed a lump in her throat. “I’m sorry… I just don’t want you to mess up like I did!” She let a few sobs free.
Juliana’s countenance fell when she realized why Hillary had been so fervent about her friendship with Kevin.
“I had someone wonderful, but I didn’t see it either. He told me all the time how much he loved me, but… well, I was stupid. I messed up, and now it’s too late! Kevin is a wonderful man, and he loves you. I can feel it! Everyone can. I would give anything to have someone who cares about me the way he cares about you. Anything!”
There was a sincerity in her voice Juliana never heard before. She appreciated the conversation for the clarity it gave her about Hillary’s feelings. But, it also confused her. Months back on their date,Kevin said he was not ready for a relationship. Yet, everyone was telling her he was in love with her. Worse yet, she could feel it too. Did he lie? Had things changed and he hadn’t told her yet? Was he trying and failing at hiding the way he felt? What exactly was she supposed to do with this information? That, she was unsure–especially in light of her mother’s warning. But, surely this disproved what Mamá said. He loved her! The men her mother referred to typically didn’t love the women they were deceiving, right? Was it necessary to stay away from him now? Whether it was or wasn’t, there was something about disobeying her mother that didn’t sit well with her. As painful as it was, and as miserable as it made her, she had to break away from Kevin to keep her own conscience clear.