Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 2 months, 1 week, 4 days
After Kevin’s presentation, he wasted no time getting the ball rolling on their venture. He applied for everything he could possibly apply for at that point, made sure Juliana got the immigration forms, and called in some favors to get her the interview and medical exam as soon as possible. After he had done all he could do, he made yet another proposal.
“Let’s get away for the weekend!”
She was stunned. It was so unexpected. In Kevin-like fashion, her silence made him nervous, and he began rambling.
“You still haven’t seen all of Windenburg yet, and I could sure use a break. You should take one too before you start working full time. It’ll be so fun!”
Indeed. She told him she would think about it. There was no way she was going to tell Hillary about it unless she decided to go and not until the very last minute. She could only imagine what her reaction would be and the so-called advice she would give her. And the teasing. It would never stop.
Juliana was never opposed to spending quality time with Kevin, but something about this prevented her from immediately saying yes. She knew him. There would be nothing untoward, but it still made her a tad bit uneasy. This was new. Additionally, she was still trying to learn what it meant to be a single woman in her new country. Was it normal for friends of the opposite sex who may have feelings for each other to go out of town together? If not, what did that mean for them? Spending time with Kevin confused her while she learned what dating was. Apart from the absence of romance, she couldn’t tell the difference. Hillary said they were dating. Everyone assumed they were. But, Kevin said they weren’t. Who did she listen to? Was there a litmus test? Despite the dating concept still being foreign, going out of town together seemed date-ish. The mixed signals she was receiving from him were getting to be a bit frustrating. But, who was she kidding? There was no way she was going to say no to this despite how she felt about it.
Friday evening, Kevin came by and picked her up. They were going to be staying at the Old Town Hotel which was just a few blocks from the museum where the art club met. He said the restaurant on the main floor had fantastic brunch that was actually all day, and he heard the rooms pretty sweet too.
That weekend was full of firsts. It was the first time she had ever been to a hotel. It was also the first time she had been away from home and Harriett’s watchful eye for more than half a day. Most importantly, it was the first time she had more than a handful of hours to spend with Kevin. She was overjoyed to spend two days straight with him but wondered if it would be the same. Did he have any annoying habits? Was he always nice? Would she get tired of being around him? She would never admit it to anyone, but her mother’s words were always in the back of her mind despite the trust she had in him. What if this weekend trip was the endgame and he tried to take what didn’t belong to him? It was a disturbing thought, and she pushed it to the farthest corner of her mind.
The reception desk and the host station for the restaurant were in the same place. Kevin spoke to the woman manning the desk to check in and reserve a table for dinner.
“Okaaaay,” she said as she typed. “We have one room with a king size bed–that one has a great view–and a few rooms with two double beds.” She looked up to receive his answer.
“We actually need two rooms, please.”
“Oh! My apologies.” She began typing again.
Juliana must have been holding her breath. She exhaled all of the air out of her lungs and her shoulders relaxed at Kevin’s request. She didn’t expect anything else for he would never make that assumption or assert himself that way. But, her mother’s voice and all the what-ifs wouldn’t go away. She tried to silence her and push the thoughts away, but they went wild and began to take on a life of their own. What if having two rooms was just a cover? What if they went back to her room to watch TV after dinner and he didn’t leave? What if he got too cozy? What if he tried–
“You ok?” His left eyebrow was raised.
She forced a smile. “Yeah. I’m ok.”
“Our table is ready.” He beckoned for her to come along.
She snapped out of her crazy thoughts and followed the host.
The server was swift and came to collect their order almost immediately. Juliana quickly scanned the menu for something familiar.
“Good evening, folks. Can I interest you in our specials?”
“No, thank you. I just want a cheeseburger cooked medium rare and a glass of your best white. Juliana, do you want a glass of wine?”
Kevin nodded to the server to complete his order and handed him the menu back.
“Spinach and onion quiche…and water, please.”
“Great. I’ll return shortly.”
The quiet jump started the crazy train again. What if Kevin tried to get somewhere with her that night? Was there anything really wrong with that? Her mother and Harriett seemed bent on not cruising down the road of temptation. Hillary… Well, Juliana decided long time ago she probably was not the best authority on relationships and matters of the heart. Listening to her could get her in deep water. She needed to decide what her response was going to be if something were to occur. Did she go for it? Or, did she stay the course and delay more for the appropriate time? Some days she didn’t even know when the appropriate time was and wondered what she was waiting for. But, sometimes, when she came home and watched Harriett take care of the house, or looked at Hillary’s growing belly, she remembered when that was: whenever she felt ready for all of that.
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
She snapped out of it again. “Huh? Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.”
“Sure? You seem kinda spacey.”
“Yeah…like your mind is out in space.” He twinkled his fingers. “oooh-OOOH-oooooh.”
That was his best impression of cheesy space music, and it cracked her up. It helped her feel less anxious, and she saw no sense in lying about where her mind was.
“I guess I am…spacey.“
He looked concerned. “Wanna talk about it?”
She shook her head. Luckily the server arrived with their food, and Kevin forgot all about Juliana. He was so hungry, he seemed to devour his meal in three bites.
When he was done eating, he leaned back in the chair, patted his belly, and sighed in complete satisfaction.
“That was so good. Sorry if I seemed like a pig. I’ve been in meetings all day. This is my first meal!”
“Aww! That’s no good. You need to make time.”
“Yeah…well, welcome to my life.”
“You could bring lunch so you don’t need to go out.”
He snorted. “What do I look like carrying a lunch bag into work? It’s not exactly cool.” He snickered at the thought.
That was the first time he ever rejected one of her suggestions. She knew it was not practical for him to listen to everything single thing she said. Usually he seemed keen on her opinions. It wasn’t something to take personally, but she did. Just a bit.
“So… Did you want to go somewhere for a little while, or are you ready to turn in for the night?”
She was always down for a few hours with him but decided against it this time.
“I’m a little tired.” That may or may not have been the truth.
“Me too. What is it? 9:00? 10?”
She looked at her phone. “9:30”
“Right. Ok…” He got up. “She said we’re in 216 and 217. We’re neighbors!”
He grinned, and she forced another smile. He shuffled the key cards back and forth like he was doing a card trick and held them out for her to pick one. She chose 216, and they went upstairs. It was a small hotel. Old, but recently renovated. They split up to find the rooms as there were wings on either side of the stairs.
“Two sixteen is here,” she said.
He came over and looked at the other room. “Ah, and here’s 217.”
Time seemed to go in slow motion as he rounded the corner and they each took a step toward their rooms. How did this work? Did they just say goodnight and go their separate ways? She was so nervous about everything.
“Do you mind if I check out your room?” he asked. “I just want to see if it’ll be different from mine.”
She hoped to God she didn’t have a crazy look on her face. “Yeah. S-sure.”
It seemed harmless, but she hoped she was doing the right thing. She slid the card in the door, opened it, and walked in. Kevin followed her.
“Aww man,” Kevin yelled. “You got the room with the cool balcony! I saw it when we were coming in earlier.”
“Oh. You want to switch?”
His face wrinkled. “Oh, no! Of course not. I’m glad you got it. I’ll just have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in mine.” He chuckled.
She smiled but was confused. “What does that mean?”
“Oh, sorry. Slang. Uhh, sometimes when people are jealous, they shorten it to ‘jelly.’ I’m a dork and made the whole thing up about peanut butter and jelly sandwich to fit the conversation.”
“Oh.” She laughed but knew it was too late.
“Come on! We gotta check out this view!” He rushed to the balcony.
“Aww YES! This is NICE! Good thing you have this room. I’d be sitting out here all night just looking at this view!” He turned around and went back into the room and faced her. “Well, I’m gonna get out of your hair, so…sleep well. I’ll text you in the morning for breakfast.”
He nodded and turned around to leave but came back. “Oh! I meant to ask you… Did you catch much flak from Harriett? I, uhhh…well, I just imagine she wouldn’t like this idea.”
Juliana rolled her eyes, and he laughed at her.
“We had a fight,” she said.
He gasped. “Oh no! Seriously? You’re not here for some rebellious payback, are you?”
“No. I told her was going with you, and she said no. She sound like mamá.” She stood back on her hip and threw Harriett’s high-pitched voice as best she could. “I don’t think you need to be going ’round with Kevin like that! This sounds mighty suspicious if you ask me!”
She conveniently left out the part when Harriett said she knew Juliana had feelings for him and was playing with fire, of course.
Kevin held his stomach and howled. He never heard her do an impression before. “Juliana! That was hilarious,” he said between fits of laughter. “That voice!”
She laughed at her impudence too. “She went on and on and on. I was so mad. Last week she told me to make my own decisions but she still wants to tell me I can’t do things. When she finish, I say, ‘I am not asking for permission!'”
Kevin gasped. “You sassed Harriett? You’re so bad, Juliana!”
She thought it was funny that he assumed she was 100% sweet, innocent, and compliant all the time.
“She was surprised,” she said. “And I felt bad. But, we talked about it later and she’s ok now.”
“Oh, geez. First I take you to a bar, now I take you out of town… Somehow I feel like she’s crossed my name off the Christmas card list.”
They both fell into laughter again.
“She likes you,” she said. “Don’t worry.”
“If you say so. Ok…I’m gonna get outta here for real this time. Have a good night.”
“You too. Thanks.”
He gave her one last smile and left.
The first thing she did when she was alone was her happy dance. Then, she changed into her PJs, climbed into bed, and attempted to sleep. It was nice to be somewhere else for a change, but she missed her own bed. She had no idea how Harriett made it so comfortable, but the hoteliers could learn a thing or two from her.
While her eyes were closed, her mind raced. She thought of the fun she just had with her best friend, the fun they would have tomorrow and the next day. The bothersome thoughts tried to creep back into the spotlight, but she chased them away. She was wondering if she should have felt bad for thinking them despite knowing they weren’t true. She knew him pretty well, but there was so much she didn’t know about him.
Sleep evaded her for about an hour, and she gave up. She was just too dang excited and pensive. She got even more excited when she remembered the balcony. She hopped up and went out there to sit. If Kevin was paying for that beautiful room, she may as well use it all, she thought.
Different thoughts came to mind as her eyes were fixated on the Windenburg skyline in the distance. She thought of Harriett’s words about how lucky she was; she knew it. A day did not pass that she didn’t thank God for everything she had and experienced in the past year. It made her chuckle sometimes when she thought about how scared she was when she was homeless and wanting help. She didn’t know many people but thought highly of the ones she had met, save a few. It made her wonder if she could have gone to anyone and received the same level of care. Probably not. Everything that happened was too perfect. Like it was divinely orchestrated or something. Whether it was or wasn’t, sitting there on her very own balcony–at least for two nights–at her very first hotel with a man she cared a great deal for, she was forever grateful.