Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 2 months, 5 days
Just as Kevin promised, he called Juliana three days after their talk. He said he had something to show her, and they ended up in his old neighborhood in Oasis Springs. But, before he got around to his show and tell, they needed to catch up and get reacquainted. It was the middle of the afternoon when they arrived, and Kevin parked his car on the side of the dusty road. Bedrock Strait wasn’t green and manicured like the other neighborhoods of Oasis Springs. That’s what made the property values so low thus making it a prime location for low income families. The main road that served the neighborhood was long and desolate before crossing into the residential area. Kevin parked so far away because he wanted them to go for a nice, slow walk along the river. There was a small hill they could walk down to get to the river. As they were walking, Juliana asked how his project at work was going. He didn’t want to bore her with the details. It was a beautiful, warm day. The contrast of the water’s blue hue against the golden earth was gorgeous. None of it needed to be ruined by numbers, forecasts, and market trends. He gave her a brief answer and moved on. Juliana walked to the bank stopped and short of getting her shoes wet to take in the scene for a bit.
“It’s so beautiful here.”
He walked up behind her with a nostalgic look. “Yeah. I used to come down here a lot when I was a kid. Me and my dad fished all up and down this river.”
Juliana wanted to comment on his lament, but hearing about his father made her remember that she had something she had been dying to show him too. She gasped and pulled an envelope from her back pocket. “Look at my family!”
Kevin’s jaw dropped and his eyes were the brightest she had ever seen them. “Ohhh YES! You have pictures? I’d love to see them.”
He slid closer to her for the best viewing angle. A spark ignited inside her when she felt his hip next to hers. She glanced at him briefly but went back to her pictures. She had to stay focused. It wasn’t time for more yet.
“This is papá!”
“Wow… You have his eyes!” He gazed upon the deceased man with a look of admiration. “What was his name?”
“Hmmm… He looks like such an honorable man.” He shook his head. “It’s so terrible what happened!”
She nodded and took a quick deep breath. She stroked the picture one last time and put it at the end of the stack. “Mamá.” She loved her mother of course, but there was a hint of playful bitterness in her voice.
“She’s gorgeous! You look just like her! Wow!”
His reactions to meeting her family for the first time was exactly the way she imagined it when she first received the envelope of pictures. It was so good to finally share them with him.
“She is Cecilia.”
“Seh-SEE-le-ah,” he repeated in her accent.
She laughed and went to the next picture. “My sister, Adrianna. She’s 14. She like to dance and make friends. She begged mamá for that lipstick when she turned 13.” she chuckled.
“I guess that’s a no no, huh?”
“She didn’t think it was proper.”
“She’s beautiful too. Is your family just full of beautiful women?”
“She looks like both of them,” he said as he inspected the picture some more.
“She does.” She put the picture in the back of the stack. “My brother, Andres. He’s 12, but he is so big already!”
Kevin snorted. “That is one good looking kid. He’s gonna break some hearts for sure!”
“He is a good boy. He wants to make a lot of money to get a good house. And he hates snakes.”
They both laughed.
“I think he looks just like your mom.”
“Mmm hmm. This is Vittoria.”
“Awwww, she is adorable.”
“She loves red. It’s all she wears.”
“Very cute. How old?”
“Eight. Mamá’s helper. And, this is Mara.”
Kevin gasped like a teenage girl with juicy gossip. “She looks just like you! But with green eyes and brown hair!”
She laughed at his excitement and scrutiny of her family. “Yes, we look the same. She is 7 and love to play. Mamá doesn’t like, ehhh, how do you say…what do you call this?” She was pointing at Mara’s outfit.
He shrugged. “Don’t ask. We have all kind of funny names that don’t make sense.”
She chuckled. “Mamá thinks girls should not wear them, but Mara like to play so much she ruined all the dresses.”
“So she had to get her some overalls then, huh.”
“It’s amazing…all of your siblings have your dad’s green eyes.”
She poked her lips and sighed. “Yeah. Mine are brown and boring.”
“Don’t say that! They’re brown and beautiful.”
That was unexpected. It was nothing she never heard before, but it was still out of the blue and she was unprepared. She thought for sure she had a dopey grin on her face. Luckily for her, Kevin looked away and began something else unexpected.
“Marrra. Marrrrra. I wish I could roll my R’s like you.”
She laughed at his poor impression. “You can get better with practice.”
“Vittoooorrria. ANdrrres.” He laughed at his own poor pronunciation. “I took French in school. I sucked at that too!”
She put her hand on her hip and spoke with with her chest out. “If I can learn to say ‘y’all,’ you can learn to roll your R’s.”
He began laughing again even harder. “You still don’t say it right!”
“Yawl. You have to open your mouth and get the aw in there.”
“Yah–yal–yah-awl. I can’t do that!”
They were both howling.
“Well, by the time you learn how to say it properly, I will have learned to roll my R’s.”
He high fived her. “Come on. I want to show you something before we go downtown.”
They trotted back up the small hill they came down near where the car was parked and continued walking up the street.
“What were your other brothers and sisters names?” he asked.
“Oh.” She took a moment to think about it and started from the bottom. “Roberto. He was one year older than me. I knew him. He died when I was 6.”
“Oh, wow. I didn’t know you knew any of them.”
He looked at her like he just discovered yet another reason to care. She loved how compassionate he was.
“I knew him and Lucia. She died when I was 2. She was…3 years older? Yes, 3 years.” She paused for a moment to think of the others. There were so many of them, and she had only ever heard of them. “The eldest was a son, Franco. He would be 30 now I think. There was…Isabella, Sophia… Nicola, and Patrizia.”
“Wow! So your family is filled with beautiful women!”
She nodded. “Only two sons.”
They finally reached the neighborhood. It was the first time Kevin had been back there since he left, and he stopped for a moment to look around and take it all in.
“What is this place?” Juliana asked.
“This…” He looked around some more. “This is where I grew up. This is my neighborhood.”
She too looked around. Bedrock Strait was foreign to her as were all the neighborhoods. Compared to her village, it was nice enough.
Kevin stopped in front of a particular house and pointed at it. “This is it. This used to be my house.”
She had never seen his current house but figured it must have been a huge place. Looking around at the tiny houses, she was beginning to see pieces of a puzzle he would solve for her in just a few minutes.
“I wanted to bring you here because… Well, I know we already talked about it, and I know you’re not struggling with it anymore, but I just wanted to show you. I’m successful now, but it hasn’t always been that way. I came from here.” He motioned around the neighborhood. “It was hard, and we didn’t have anything. I know what it’s like to be in need and not have much hope.”
“Yeah, people say things about me, but I haven’t forgotten where I came from, and remembering the struggles makes me appreciate what I have more and not be selfish with it. I’m not trying to buy you or manipulate you or anything like that. I’m just a guy who is your friend who understands where you came from, has the means to help, and wants to help. Ok?”
She wasn’t quite sure why he had gone through such great lengths to belabor the point, but she appreciated the meaning behind it. He was sincere about everything he said about not wanting to hurt her. It solidified the trust she told him she had even though it was pretty solid before. It also gave her another perspective that was both encouraging to her and something to put in her arsenal when she wrote back to her mother. She saw that someone could start in the gutter and end up at the top. They never had that opportunity back home. There wasn’t a system of castes officially, but the poor were constantly oppressed because of ignorance and assumptions. It was near impossible for anyone to rise up and become something great. That is what made Cecilia’s decision to save Juliana so courageous. Juliana could be just like Kevin one day. It was a nice thought, and she tucked it away for another time.
After the long walk down the street, they piled into the car and headed for downtown. Kevin didn’t have much of an agenda, but he knew she loved it there and wanted to take her somewhere she hadn’t been. They ended up in what was nicknamed “the fashion district.” It was a trendy, modern area that took a lot of cues from other trendy, modern places like Tokyo. There weren’t any famous clothing stores or anything related to fashion in the neighborhood, but the style of the area attracted people who were into modern, trendy things like high fashion. It was a great location for people watching.
Kevin parked in a lot near the center of the neighborhood. Much like the spice district, it had a large, common area that hosted a few annual festivals. Juliana wandered around with Kevin in tow. He missed watching her discover new things and being in awe of everything around her. They had never been downtown together, and he was experiencing first hand the joy she expressed after all her trips to the city.
The fashion district was built on a hill and stood a bit higher than the other areas, but not nearly as high as uptown. Juliana went to the railing and leaned over to admire the city below.
“Be careful,” Kevin said.
He gently grabbed her arm to keep her from falling over the edge as if a touch so gentle could prevent it. She enjoyed the touch and never turned down free samples of more.
“It’s so nice here! I want to live here one day.”
He smiled. “You will. Maybe sooner than you think.”
She returned from leaning over the rail and smiled back at him.
“Come on. Let’s have a drink.”
There was a karaoke bar just around the corner from where they were. Word on the street was if someone wanted to be a singer, Planet Honey Pop was the place to be. It was rumored that executives from record labels occasionally hung out there, and some people were signed as a result of being discovered. No one ever had any concrete evidence of that, but most people accepted it as fact.
Juliana was excited but a bit nervous about hanging out with Kevin at a bar. They hadn’t done that before. Furthermore, she hadn’t had a drink since the first time she and Hillary hung out a year ago. She didn’t have qualms about drinking, but this was another one of those situations where she felt like she didn’t meet people’s expectations. She had no idea what to order and didn’t like the look people gave her when they discovered she didn’t drink. She knew Kevin would be more gracious, but the newness of the situation made her nervous anyway.
When they sat at the bar, he looked like he remembered something. “Oh… I should have asked… Do you drink? I sometimes forget how young you are.” There was a look on his face she couldn’t detect. Whatever it was, he hid it with a sarcastic snort. “You’re not even old enough to buy your own drink.”
“What is the age?”
That was almost a whole two years away. She didn’t think about their age difference much. Honestly, she wasn’t sure exactly how old he was; she never asked. But, she had an idea that it was probably significant. It didn’t bother her, though. Age was simply a number.
“I’m sorry,” he continued. “I should have asked you. I hope I haven’t made you uncomfortable bringing you here.”
She was a wee bit uncomfortable but didn’t want him to know that. “It’s ok. I want to try something.”
“Sure? I’m not trying to pressure you. I feel like Harriett would murder me if she found out I took you to a bar.”
They both laughed. Especially Juliana when she recalled how Harriett reacted when Hillary took her to that bar.
“I will leave that part out,” she said.
“Heh, sure.” Suddenly, something behind them stole his attention and he spun around on his stool and faced the stage. “Listen to her! We can drink later. We gotta check her out!”
The heavily pregnant woman on stage was singing like she didn’t have eight pounds of pressure sitting on her abdomen. She had a great, silky alto tone and ran through the notes like it was nothing.
When she was done crooning, an announcement was made that a karaoke contest would be starting in five minutes. Juliana thought Kevin’s excitement about the family pictures was high, but she unprepared for his reaction to the announcement.
“WE’RE TOTALLY DOING THIS!”
He grabbed her arm and attempted to drag her on the stage, but she was solid like as rock.
“No! I-I can’t sing!”
“Neither can I, but it’s gonna be so fun!”
There was so much light in his eyes. She had never seen him so fun and loose before; it was refreshing. She wanted to oblige him, but singing in front of people was something she just did not do.
“Hmmm, maybe we should have those drinks. Some of the best karaoke singers survive on liquid courage,” he said jokingly. “It’s ok, Juliana! Everyone knows karaoke is an excuse for people to make fools of themselves. You’re expected to be bad…except…when you’re not, hee hee.”
He didn’t make any sense but wasn’t giving up. And, she so loved how excited he was about doing this.
“I don’t know many songs.”
“Well, that’s kind of the point. The words are on the screen so you can follow along, but we can sing any song you want! Hey! What was that one song you knew at that party in Windenburg? Let’s do that!”
“You know it?”
“I am embarrassed to say I do know that song. So… whaddaya say?”
She sighed. “Ok.”
Kevin found the song in the system and queued it up for them. The music began to play, and they had a four measure wait before the first words came on. Juliana was incredibly nervous and would have rather been doing anything else. But looking over at Kevin with his goofy grin made her laugh. It loosened her up just a little. But, when the words began to scroll, she clammed up. Her voice was so low she could barely be heard.
I hopped off the plane at LAX
with a dream and my cardigan…
She thought it was hilarious that she, the foreigner, knew the words while he was flubbing it. The laughter helped a lot.
…Jumped in the cab, here I am for the first time
Look to my right, and I see the Hollywood sign…
She looked out at the audience and noticed two groups of people: people who weren’t paying attention and people who thought they rocked. That’s when she knew none of it mattered to anyone. Sure, it was natural to feel nervous, but she was up there singing her favorite song with her favorite friend who seemed to be having the time of his life. She was gonna have fun too. Putting the fear aside, she thought about the hundreds of times she and her girlfriends back home shouted the lyrics and danced to this song in her bedroom. She channeled those memories and turned up her performance.
…and I’m feelin’ kinda home sick
Too much pressure and I’m nervous
That’s when the taxi man turned on the radio
And a Jay-Z song was on
And the Jay-Z song was on…
…So I put my hands up
They’re playing my song, the butterflies fly away
I’m noddin’ my head like, yeah
I’m movin’ my hips like, yeah…
…Yeeeeeeeeeeah, it’s a party in the U.S.A.
Yeeeeeeeeeeah, it’s a party in the U.S.A.
When the song was over, Juliana couldn’t stop laughing. Kevin was hilarious. His tone was so much worse than hers, and he flubbed most of the words. Singing that song with him was a thousand times more fun than with her friends. Never in her life did she once imagine she would be in the U.S.A. singing that song. She felt amazing.
Kevin high fived her again. “WOO! We were HOT! Don’t tell me that wasn’t FUN!
“We deserve really awesome drinks right now!” He practically ran to the bar.
Juliana was smiling and shaking her head him. This was a completely new Kevin she never knew before, and she was glad to meet him. She never thought he was a stick in the mud, but he more reserved–like her–and a bit serious. Occasionally a humorous side would come out, but nothing like this.
He ordered two Sea of Fires. It was his favorite drink and he hoped she would like it as much as he did. She sat next to him and waited for the drinks to be made. Neither of them could say much as they were processing what they had just done and how much fun it was. When they got the drinks, Kevin waited for Juliana to try it first.
“What do you think?”
She coughed and held her throat. “It’s spicy!”
“Ha! Yeah, sea of fire.”
It wasn’t a bad just unexpected. She took another sip. “It’s sweet too.”
“So…do you like it?”
“It’s good, yeah.”
He was glad. He really did feel bad about not asking her about her preferences before they got there. It was difficult because Juliana was so mature and didn’t act her age, but remembering her age was always alarming like a swift kick to the groin.
Out of nowhere, another man was trying to get Juliana’s attention. He was sitting at the other end of the bar calling her name. Kevin looked askance and wondered where this guy thought he knew her from. He was so much older than Kevin. Step off, old man, he thought.
There was another singer on stage trying to outdo them, and it was hard to hear. Juliana finally heard the voice and looked in his direction. “Oh! Hi Jack,” she said. “How are you? Is Rebecca here too?”
“No, I’m just grabbing a drink before I head home. Had a late meeting.”
“Oh, Jack. Rebecca’s husband,” Kevin said under his breath. “Heh, I know how that goes. Can I get you something? We’re celebrating our epic karaoke performance!”
“Karaoke? You two must be brave souls!”
It was obvious Kevin was still pumped. His excitement was contagious, and Juliana couldn’t stop smiling.
“Bravery? Nah, you don’t need that. You just have to care about not looking like an idiot,” Kevin said matter-of-factly.
The trio laughed.
“Come on, Jack. Let me buy you a drink.”
“Oh, thank you kindly, but no. I don’t want to interrupt your date.”
The smile Kevin had was wiped from his face. Juliana was afraid to look at him and took another sip.
“Y-yeah…are you two together?”
Juliana wanted to laugh for she understood much better than Kevin why people kept thinking they were an item.
“Oh, no, we’re not–w-we’re just–she’s my friend. W-we’re just hanging out.”
“Oh.” Jack sounded very surprised. “My mistake.”