Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 2 months, 1 day
It was early. The sky was almost colorless as it transitioned from the pre-dawn gold into the faint early morning blue. The birds were getting warmed up and tuned their voices for their opening number. That was usually Harriett’s cue to begin stirring about. She was going downstairs to prepare her fluffy, buttery pancakes, but she heard sounds of life coming from Juliana’s room. She wasn’t one to sleep the day away like her friend in the next room, but it wasn’t usual for Juliana to be up that early.
Harriett had been looking for an opportunity to speak with her ever since her evening with Kevin two nights ago. She didn’t want to upset her and kept putting it off, but perhaps the odd morning was a sign to go for it. She knocked on the door and waited for the invitation. When Juliana granted entry, she entered and said a silent prayer that it would go well.
“Good mornin, puddin! Oh! You’re all dressed and everything. You going somewhere?”
She shook her head. “I couldn’t sleep.”
“Oh dear. That’s no good.” She had a strong suspicion why. “Would you mind if we talked for a minute?”
There was another look on Juliana’s face she would have missed if she blinked. It looked like annoyance mixed in wth a bit of relief. She got up and sat on the bed, and Harriett joined her as she thought of how she should begin. She thought revealing she had spoken to Kevin would somehow betray her trust, but she had to go for it.
“Juliana… I know this is none of my business, and you’re not obligated to tell me a thing. But, I just feel like you’re going through something that you need to talk to someone about. I hear you in here crying, and you’ve been acting awfully suspicious. And then, Kevin tells me that you’ve been avoiding him. What you two do is between you, but you seem kinda miserable, puddin! If you don’t wanna talk about it, that’s fine, but I’m here for ya if you do.”
Harriett wanted to stay and be a shoulder to cry on, but she didn’t want to make Juliana feel pressured. After a good amount of time, she smiled and got up.
Thank the Lord! She sat back down.
Juliana leaned over and pulled her mother’s letter from the nightstand. She held it in her hand while she searched for the words to tell Harriett. She looked like she was ready to cry. After a few moments of failed attempts at starting a sentence, she held the paper up and read a selection. She smirked when she remembered it wasn’t written in Simlish. She took her time and translated what it said and read it to Harriett.
When Juliana was finished reading the letter, Harriett wanted to grab her and give her a tight squeeze. If only her own children were as reverent.
“Oh, puddin. You are the sweetest girl!”
Juliana looked away. “I don’t feel sweet.”
“I know you don’t, but you are. My children don’t even try.”
Juliana looked at her like she felt sorry for her.
“Oh, don’t worry about me. Look, Juliana, I would never tell you to disobey your mama, but can I give you a few things to think about?”
She nodded eagerly.
“Your mama is just doing her job, puddin. We always think we know best, especially when our children are young adults just starting out. We’re just scared and don’t want anything to happen to y’all!”
She called on her recently acquired wisdom for the next bit. “We need to let you go so you can learn to fight your own battles, but it’s just so hard. People think that parenting is easier when your children grow up, but it’s not! It’s harder! When they’re out in the world on their own, we don’t know how they are and what they’re doing, if they’re sick or hurt…it’s such a scary time.
“And with you being all the way across the water? Oh boy…I can’t imagine how your mama must feel! Now that she can communicate with you, she has a little bit more piece of mind, but these letters…they’re all she has. She didn’t say that to make life difficult for you. She said it because she loves you and it’s the only opportunity she has to be your mom. You understand, right?”
“If the shoe were on the other foot, I’d be telling Hillary the same thing. But, you know Kevin, and you know he’s not a charlatan, right?”
She nodded again.
“There comes a time in a child’s life when she has to start making her own decisions according to what’s right for her. All of your life, you’ve been in your parent’s protective mold, but the mold is temporary. You were never meant to live your entire life doing what they tell you to do and thinking how they tell you to think.”
Her voice started Harriett a bit.
“In my country, we live in the mold until we are married. I… I’m not used to having a say! I know I live here now, and I can decide, but… She is still alive…she is my mamá! I’m so confused!” She fell into Harriett’s arms and wept.
Harriett stroked her long, thick locks and shushed her like a baby. “I know, puddin. I know. Growing up is hard. But, what you’re going through isn’t unique to you. Every child has to decide at some point in their lives to make a decision that goes against what their parents say. It’s a rite of passage!”
Juliana sat up and dried her eyes. She seemed interested in the concept.
“Now, I’m not gonna tell you what to do because that has to be your decision. But, I’ll be glad to help you get there.”
Juliana smiled and nodded.
“Look around, puddin. Look at where you are! The fact that you are here in this bedroom right now is a miracle! Sometimes I think about what you went through and what’s happened to your family…it breaks my heart! Ever since you stepped a foot on our soil, you’ve been blessed. So many doors have been opened for you. Don’t you think God wants to continue to bless you?”
Juliana nodded as tears streamed down her cheeks.
“And now, you have the opportunity of a lifetime! I don’t believe in only having one chance to do things, but who knows when this opportunity will come back around again, and with whom! At least this time you have someone who cares about you, and you trust him, right?”
Juliana grinned. “Yes.”
“Ooooh, and he makes you smile so pretty too!”
Juliana rolled her eyes, and she didn’t hide it this time.
“I used to tell my kids if they keep rolling their eyes like that they’ll get stuck!”
They both laughed.
The sunlight through the patio door illuminated the entire room, and Harriett knew exactly what time it was. “Ok, puddin, I need to get breakfast going. But, even if you decide not to do this thing with Kevin, at least talk to him and tell him what’s going on. He’s not mad. He just wants to know that you’re alive.”
“Thank you, Harriett.” She leaned over and gave her a tight squeeze.
# # #
Later that afternoon, Hillary came home to a living room full of family. Her sister and youngest nephew were visiting her parents. She was glad Rebecca was there for she had a totally awesome announcement to make. She sat quietly and waited for an opportunity to interrupt the conversation.
“I GOT A JOB!”
Everyone in the room gasped.
“Hillary! That’s wonderful,” Rebecca said.
Harriett looked like she could have cried; she was so proud. But, the look on Harold’s face was the icing on the cake. He never smiled that way at her. Ever. Not even when she graduated high school. He didn’t say anything, but that was all the encouragement she needed for that day.
“That’s so cool, Aunt Hill!”
Harriett finally snapped out of her pride induced stupor and checked her watch. “We’ve got to celebrate! It’s almost five. Let’s go to dinner!”
“We’d love to, but we have to go,” Rebecca said.
“Awww ma,” Jake whined.
“We have Mallory’s recital, remember?”
“I don’t wanna go. Ballet is dumb! I wanna eat with granny and papa!”
“Jake, listen to your mother,” Harriett warned. “Y’all have fun. Tell her I said to break a leg.”
They said their goodbyes, and Harriett went upstairs to collect Juliana. Within 10 minutes, they were on their way to Newcrest. Harriett wanted to go to somewhere a little nicer than the Burger Barn.
“A table for four, please,” she told the host.
He tapped his screen a few times. “We have a table ready right now! Right this way.” He ushered them to the center of the restaurant; it was beginning to fill up with early diners. “Here is your table. Here are some menus, and your server will be with your shortly. Enjoy!”
They all got seated and perused the menu. Juliana, Harold, and Hillary found their order pretty quickly.
“Where is this place you gon be workin at?” Harold asked.
“It’s at a clothing store in the mall.”
“They pay good?”
“I didn’t ask about the pay, daddy. I just took the…” Suddenly a look of terror took over her face.
“Oh my God oh my God oh my God,” she whispered. “I don’t want him to see me like this! I don’t want him to see me!”
Harriett turned around and saw a couple of guys but none who were looking their way. “Who’s that?”
Hillary buried her face in her hands in attempts to hide herself.
Harriett gasped. “Is that him?”
“Shut up, mama! Just shut up!” She had that vulnerable feeling like she was naked and needed to hide. The host was passing by, and she grabbed his arm. “Where’s the bathroom??”
“Uhh, it’s right there,” he said indignantly.
It was just a few feet from where they were sitting, and she hopped to her feet and shuffled there as fast as she could.