Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 2 months, 2 days
As of late, Harold had been less skittish about his piano playing. He thought Harriett would make a big deal out of him playing again, but to his surprise and satisfaction, she didn’t say a word. He didn’t play all the time, but when he did, he was courageous enough to play when everyone was at home. Hillary knew he could play but never had the pleasure of hearing him before. His skills and passion were like Greek mythology and folklore; she only ever heard about it. When he began to play, she was fascinated by this unknown side of him but stayed out of his way. However, as he got more receptive to building a healthier relationship with her, she got bolder. One afternoon, she was bold enough to allow him to see how much she enjoyed listening to him. She was having lunch and decided to go out to the shed for a front row seat.
The sound of the door opening and sudden shaft of light startled him, but he kept playing. His nostrils flared, and he let out a slow, controlled breath. The company was not welcomed. However, it wasn’t because he wanted to be alone, but he hadn’t shared his passion with anyone in a long time. The only person who had seen him play was Juliana. Before then, it had been way too long. He was almost done with the concerto anyway and wanted lunch. When he finished, he was startled again by his daughter’s applause. He smirked as it reminded him of the time Harriett snuck in on his practice back in their younger years.
“I like listening to you play, daddy.”
He got up to go inside.
He didn’t know what to say. The situation was too familiar, and he was unsure how it should have been handled. There were times when he wanted to tell her things. Things that would make her feel better about herself. Things that would explain his actions. Things like she was so much like her dead brother it hurt. She never met him and had no clue what he was like, but Harold knew. She didn’t look like him, but she was still a constant reminder of what he lost. The way she thought about the world, her spunk, her attachment to him, and even the mischief she got into as a child were exactly like Blake. If he were alive, he would love her and protect her like a big brother should. They would probably be the closest of the four children. It was those thoughts that haunted him and caused him to keep her at arm’s length for so long. He wanted to tell her these things, but he wasn’t that kind of man.
“Do you think this could fit in the house if we made room for it?”
He was still wrestling with his thoughts and got more than he bargained for with the intrusion and changed the subject to get himself out of the situation. “Why you out here with no shoes on?”
“My feet were hot.”
“Gon’ in the house and put on something on your feet.”
Meanwhile, in the house, Kevin arrived. Juliana told him she wanted to talk, and he said he would take a lunch break and go see her. She was nervous. It was helpful that she knew he wasn’t upset, but it was going to be weird to see him after almost a month and a half. On one hand, she couldn’t wait to cast her eyes on him again and get a whiff of his sweet, musky scent. But, on the other hand, she was terrified and hoped something important came up and he didn’t show. However, in Kevin like fashion, he arrived in record time with the widest smile she had seen in a long time. It melted her heart, but she was still afraid of confessing her absence to him. What she was most afraid of was being misunderstood. Her mother’s accusations were quite strong, and Juliana did not want to be associated with them at all. When she let him in, he looked like he was going to go for a hug, but she couldn’t accept. At least not then. She needed to stay focused on saying what she needed to say.
Everyone was at home that afternoon. Juliana wanted privacy and no interruptions. It seemed her housemates wanted her attention the most when she was in her room with the door closed. Instead of taking Kevin there, she took him to the balcony upstairs in the back of the house. No one ever went out there except Harriett in the mornings to water the flowers. The vacancy made it a good venue for the conversation, but she also hoped the glass door would be a deterrent for any nosey onlookers.
Kevin was gracious and didn’t pressure her about the time or asking any premature questions. Rather, he made small talk about the weather and how beautiful the flowers were. “I didn’t know Harriett had a green thumb,” he said. Juliana was still a bundle of nerves.
She had no idea how she was going to begin that conversation and figured sitting in silence wasn’t going to help. Instead, she began slowly.
She knew him well enough to know, despite the cheesy grin, he was probably a bit nervous about the content of the urgent matter. However, upon hearing her apology, he looked relieved and probably thought that everything was going to be fine.
“…And…I miss you…”
His smile got even brighter.
She took a deep breath as she prepared for the worst part. “I got a letter from mamá…”
She didn’t want to tell him what it said. He was emotionally intelligent, and she knew this. Deep down, she knew her fear was unfounded, but she couldn’t help it. If there was just one chance he would get it twisted, it was almost worth her silence. But, he needed to know. It was the only way to explain her distance.
She put her face down and stared at her shoes in hopes to find courage down there. “I told her about you and Hillary and the art club, and I told her about h-how you…how you help me.”
Kevin nodded and looked like he was trying to anticipate what came next.
“She said…” I can’t… She looked up just to see if he was still interested. Of course he was. Back to her shoes she went. “She said we shouldn’t be friends…” She looked up again to see if he was offended yet. He looked surprised but curious. “She said you…you would…” She began to squirm in her seat and thought for sure her cheeks were red. Instead of trying sugar-coating it, she quoted it quickly in hopes to be done with it. “She said you would have expectations with your gifts.”
“Ohhhh, Juliana. I–
She panicked and thought that would be where he misunderstood. “I don’t think that! But, I…I had to listen. In my country, the children have to listen to the parents, and I was confused. I know I am here, and I have my life, but it’s new and I didn’t know what to do. I’m sorry… Harriett help me think about what I want and what is good for me, and I want to stay friends. I’ll make mamá understand.”
Kevin’s respect for Juliana grew 15 times. He thought he understood many things about her, but in that moment, he understood what made Juliana Juliana. Every time he thought he couldn’t admire her more, he learned something new about her that blew his mind. She had a deep respect for her elders which was something that was lost in modern society. She trusted her loved ones deeply to the point of sacrificing her wants for the sake of what they thought was best. It was a bit of a flaw sometimes, but it was an honorable flaw.
“Wow… You’re really amazing, Juliana… I know you know this, but I just want to say that I would never ever do anything to hurt you or make you feel…used! I care about you, and…well, I want what’s best for you too.”
She never felt more relieved in all her life. In hindsight, she could see how silly it was to get all worked up over nothing. There were almost zero scenarios where he would not be ok with the outcome. She loved that about him. He had a natural curiosity about him that caused him to listen to every word that fell out of her mouth with great anticipation. He was always so positive, patient, and rarely jumped to conclusions.
“So…does this mean you’re in? Are we doing this?” He sounded so hopeful.
It was the biggest smile she had in more than a month. She nodded. “Yes.”
He fist pumped the air. “Excellent! This is going to be awesome,” he said as he looked at his watch. “Oh…I need to be getting back to the office.”
They both stood and were showing toothy grins.
“I’m so glad we got everything cleared up,” he said. “I know this was something you needed to work through, but I hope I don’t make you feel like you can’t talk to me.”
She shook her head. “I trust you.”
“Well… We should catch up sometime soon!”
“Yes. That sounds good,” she said nervously.
She could feel her heart beating in her chest, and her breaths were getting deeper and closer together. She knew why. He affected her like that, and she was always conflicted. She never denied her feelings for him even when she wasn’t always forthcoming. And, for a while, their friendship was enough. But, as time passed, and he showed her more and more of who he was, she wanted more of him. But, in her mind, more of him would put her where she didn’t want to be at the time, and she had to keep herself from entertaining thoughts of what more would be like. It was very hard to do, but she did it.
“Great! I’ll call you in a few days. I have some business stuff I need to focus on for now, but then we’re having fun!”
“I can’t wait.”
He opened his arms and invited her in for a hug, and this time she happily accepted. It had been far too long since they were together, and she melted into his arms. When she inhaled, that sweet, musky scent she missed oh so much tickled her nose. She had her true best friend back, and life made sense again. She was so happy, she could have cried while she was grinning with her eyes closed resting her head on his shoulder. They usually didn’t get so close, but it felt natural. Like she was supposed to be in his arms like that. In her mind, she knew they shouldn’t make it a habit of getting so close if they wanted to remain friends, but for a moment–just a for a moment–she wanted to enjoy what more felt like.
Kevin missed her immensely, but he didn’t realize how much until their bodies were pressed together. It was weird. He was thinking he should have been alarmed when she held him so tightly, but he wasn’t. Feeling her so near to him was a nice confirmation of their friendship being back in order. Later on, when he got home, he would think about this long hug and what it meant if it meant anything. But for the moment, he simply wanted to enjoy the closeness. He wasn’t going to pull away unless she did…
…and she didn’t.