Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 2 months, 3 weeks, 5 days
The day had come much quicker than she anticipated. One day, she started working full time, and two weeks later she had an appointment at the immigration office. Kevin’s line of work afforded him the privilege of knowing all kinds of people. He had just as many clients outside of the business world as there were inside. He knew doctors, lawyers, government officials, higher education professionals…Kevin knew everyone. He served them all well. It was no wonder his government friend jumped at the chance to help.
Harriett couldn’t stop fussing about the interview. She took Juliana shopping for appropriate clothing shortly after she returned from Windenburg. “You gotta show ’em that you mean business! They need to take you very seriously,” she said. Much like shopping with Hillary, Juliana and Harriett didn’t share the same tastes either. However, there was one blue pantsuit they agreed on. Juliana picked out some yellow accessories and shoes for some pop. Once her wardrobe was settled, Harriett worked herself into a frenzy about Juliana’s Simlish. She had come a very long way in a year, but Harriett felt like if there was ever a moment that served as a test of Juliana’s success, the interview would be it. They worked all day at the library, and then at night Harriett would work with Juliana on writing, comprehension, and expanding her vocabulary. She knew it was silly to try and cram all of it into fewer than two weeks, but she had to try. Juliana, however, was concerned about her. She appreciated the help but didn’t want to be a burden. Harriett seemed tired and agitated a lot. She was definitely more stressed about the interview than she was. Juliana couldn’t wait until it was all over so she could attempt a chance to take care of her for once. Knowing how Harriett was, she probably would never get that opportunity.
Kevin also joined the prep train and occasionally coached her. He found some mock questions online and role played with her. Wherever possible, he offered suggestions to improve her story and make it more compelling. Of course, the story was already compelling enough, but he found certain places where her word choice could use some work.
After all of the preparations, the day finally came, and she was beyond nervous. She heard the roar of Kevin’s engine outside the window as she was finishing her makeup. She should have gone downstairs to meet him, but she was stuck. What if she forgot everything everyone tried to teach her?
“Juliana!” Harriett beckoned from downstairs.
She squeezed her eyes closed and took several deep breaths as she willed her feet to move toward the door. It had never taken her so long to get downstairs before. Her legs felt so heavy like her shoes had cement in them.
Harriett gasped and put her hand across her heart when Juliana rounded the corner. “Well aren’t you a sight for sore eyes! Isn’t she just the cutest thing, Kevin?”
“Yes ma’am. She is.”
Juliana glanced at him over Harriett’s shoulder. He was wearing that smile that usually melted her, but not that day. Her cement shoes seemed to stiffen her entire body.
“Now, puddin, I know you’re nervous and all, and that’s all right…but you can’t go in there with that scowl on your face! Breathe, and show them that pretty smile. You don’t want them thinking you’re an axe murderer or something.”
A light snort came from Juliana’s nose. She appreciated the comic relief.
“Awwww, come here, puddin.” She threw her arms around Juliana’s stiff body. “Everything is gonna be just fine! God didn’t bring you this far to hang you out to dry! Remember that.”
Harriett’s body was so warm; it was warm enough to melt the cement in Juliana’s shoes.
“Thank you,” she whispered. A few tears leaked from her eyes.
“Oh don’t start that! You’re gonna get me going! Go on and get outta here before you’re late!”
Kevin chuckled and abandoned his seat at her command. It wasn’t normal for their car rides to be completely silent. She kept her eyes at the window and could feel him glancing at her every now and then. After a while, he turned the radio on but kept it low. She was glad that he didn’t try to make her talk. When they arrived downtown, he found a place to park and exited the car. Juliana wasn’t so swift. He walked around and opened the door for her. She looked at him, her face expressionless. He extended his hand to her like he was trying to coax her out of the car. She really didn’t want to be late, so she grabbed his hand and he helped her out.
“Ok?” That’s all he said.
She nodded, straightened her suit, and headed for the immigration office. The crazy train of thought began to roll slowly. She wondered what the office looked like. Would it be nice? Or would it look like a prison?
The train picked up speed and rolled along faster than she could manage. Was Kevin’s associate trustworthy? Could it be a trap? Was it plausible that she could be deported? If so, where would they put her while Willow Creek and Monte Vista worked out the arrangements? Would she go to jail? Was that the last bear hug she would receive from Harriett? Or, the last car ride she and Kevin would share? She never got to say goodbye to Hillary and Harold.
“Hey,” Kevin said finally.
She stopped walking and glanced at him over her shoulder.
“It’s gonna be all right, you know. Just remember what Harriett said.”
She appreciated him trying to help but wished he would stop. It wasn’t working.
She pressed on up the stairs and heard a loud sigh behind her. She never wanted to disappoint or exasperate anyone she cared about, but she couldn’t think about him. She needed to hold it together to make it through the interview. All the emotional energy she had stored needed to be expended on smiling and engaging the interviewer in a positive conversation. Kevin simply needed to get with it.
Finally, the door. She stood there for a few seconds, whispered a quick prayer, and walked in. The place was sterile and dark. Just a few low hanging fluorescent lights. The walls were bland and the floor typical. It was quiet and didn’t add to the confidence she was trying to desperately to hold onto. There was a heavy looking wooden door to her right with only windows at the top. She wondered if that was the jail cell she would be living in if things didn’t go as well as everyone kept promising they would. Normally, she wasn’t so pessimistic, but her vivid imagination got the best of her. She couldn’t help but imagine the worst.
In front of her were two benches, a magazine rack, and retractable barriers that outlined the path she should follow next. Her heartbeat quickened, and she paused in her tracks. Kevin came along side her and grabbed her hand again. It was surprising, but she didn’t flinch although some sparks ignited inside her body. He walked ahead of her, gently pulleing her to where she needed to be.
“Just a little further,” he said. “I didn’t bring you down here to chicken out.” His tone was so calm and warm.
She looked into his eyes like she was trying to find some reassurance. Earlier, she thought he was annoying for trying to cheer her up, but now? Now she needed him. He was always good for it.
“Come on, Juliana. You’ve got this! You’re like the sweetest, most innocent person there is. This is just a formality because they are not going to find a reason to send you home. I don’t think they even do that here.” He moved within whispering range. “And I promise not to tell them you tried to kill me once.”
She was caught off guard and laughed; she needed it. Letting go of his hand, she smiled and walked to the front desk. He took a seat.
There was a young woman at the desk with purple hair. Juliana would never consider anything so outlandish, but she liked it and thought it went well with her skin tone. When she got closer to the young man, she saw she also wore blue contacts. She was cute.
“Hi,” the young woman said. “How can I help you?”
Out of all the things everyone went over with her, that was one thing they didn’t discuss. She froze. Luckily, the young woman helped her out.
“Are you here to get identification? File paperwork? Do you have an appointment?”
“I have an appointment,” Juliana said finally.
“Juliana. Juliana Sepulveda.”
The young woman typed her name in and took a few seconds to read something on her screen. “Ok…do you have any identification?”
“Just a copy of my birth certificate.” She handed it to her.
“Thank you… Ok…and it looks like there’s already an immigration application started for you…ok! Have a seat, and someone will be with you shortly.”
She was greeted by Kevin’s warm smile when she joined him on the bench.
“Harriett said to smile,” he said.
She snorted and knew he was trying to guilt her into smiling. Possibly for his own benefit. “I’ll smile when it’s over.”
He chuckled. “Let’s talk. It’ll take your mind off it and loosen you up.”
She blinked at him.
“I like your hair. It’s very…business.”
She was flattered but not quite sure what to say. She was still concentrating on keeping negative thoughts away and not bailing.
“Your whole outfit, really. It’s a good look.”
She managed to thank him and was glad he finally saw that small talk was not going to work. So, they sat and waited in silence.
Twenty minutes went by, and a man’s head popped out of an office down the hall. It called her name and popped back inside. Kevin grabbed her hand, again, and squeezed it. He gave her one of his strong nods. She gathered herself and rose to her feet.
“You got this,” he said as she walked down the hall.
She didn’t want to seem completely ungrateful and waved at him before she entered the office.
The office was much nicer than the rest of the place, and she was glad. Although the furniture was dark and the place was decorated with light earth tones, it still felt warm and inviting. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as bad as she imagined.
“Hello. Have a seat,” the man said.
Juliana sat across from him.
“First, I just have a few standard questions for you, ok?” He grabbed a clipboard from his desk and looked through a few pages. “What’s your full, legal name?”
“Juliana Elena Sepulveda.”
“Have you had or gone by any other names?” He read the questions more like they had periods at the end than question marks.
She wanted to simply shake her head, but Harriett had been encouraging her to speak up. “You’ll feel more confident,” she said. It wasn’t working yet, but it was still early.
“How old are you?”
She noticed he wasn’t writing anything down and seemed to anticipate her answers. He seemed to know what she was thinking and addressed her concern.
“Sorry…without photo ID, we need to make sure you are who you say you are. Just a few more of these questions then we’ll get to good stuff.”
Against Harriett’s judgement, she smiled and nodded. He proceeded to ask her about her parents and their names, ages, and birth places. Then came the so-called good stuff.
“Have you ever been convicted of a crime here or in your country of origin?”
She wanted to laugh, but that would make her appear mentally unstable. Kevin’s promise to not speak of her attempted murder came to mind. When this was all over and she was no longer illegal, she hoped that one day she would have a chance to hold his attempted murder over his head. After all, she only shoved him. She on the other hand choked on her food. He must pay.
“How old were you when you entered the country?”
“How long have you been here?”
“A year. And a few months.”
“Why did you come?”
That was the moment to remember Kevin’s coaching. He gave her a few buzzwords to enhance the story.
“There aren’t many opportunities for the poor. Monte Vista is a violent place full of disease. My parents lost seven children before me due to violence and sickness. And, a few years ago, my father was killed. My mother was afraid and tired of all these things happening to us, so she decided to send me here so one of us could have a chance to have a good life.”
It was so weird to call them “mother” and “father.” Kevin said it would be good for her to use the Simlish terms.
“I see. So, how did you get here?”
There was something about that question that rubbed her the wrong way. It felt like a trap. Was he asking her to incriminate herself? Was this how they trapped illegals and sent them home? Make them admit to coming into the country without a visa and no intentions of returning home?
“How did you get here, Ms. Sepulveda?” He asked more forcefully that time.
His tone frightened her, but she feared what would happen if she didn’t answer more. Everyone believed in her. She was the only one who was afraid. That’s when she realized her mind was playing tricks on her, and she couldn’t run way with those thoughts anymore and jeopardize everything everyone sacrificed for her.
“I came on a boat.”
“Were you on the boat legally?”
“My mother purchased a ticket.”
“Ok, good. How long have you been employed?”
She breathed a sigh of relief at the change in subject and felt silly for hesistating. “Two weeks.”
“Do you plan to remain employed at…” he flipped back to the first page, “Community Library?”
“Do you have any other plans while you’re here?”
That was a question they didn’t prepare for but one she was glad to answer.
“I have a friend…we’re going to open an art gallery.”
He nodded as he wrote her answer and seemed to be waiting for more.
“Uhh…maybe…maybe one day I’ll go to school…”
“Oh? To study what?” That was an unscripted question, and it seemed genuine.
“Nice. Anything else?”
She started to shake her head but words came out instead. “Just…live my mother’s dream. Make good friends. Marry a kind man. Raise good children. Have a good life.”
“Good. One more question. If you are issued a green card, do you have any plans to bring your family here?”
That one definitely sounded like a trick question, but it made her smile. “I’d love to, but not right now. I want to be able to take care of them.” For good measure, she added, “But, I would bring them the right way…”
“Thank you, Ms. Sepulveda. Good luck with everything.”
He shook her hand, showed her out, and she returned to Kevin.
“Are you good now?” he asked.
She smiled and nodded.
“Good. Let’s eat.”
They walked to a restaurant next door called The Paper Crane. It was a beautiful, colorful, outdoor, Japanese seafood restaurant.
“Do you like lobster? You’ve got to have the lobster here. It’s to die for!”
They were seated, and Kevin looked at the drink menu. Juliana took a moment to collect herself. She wasn’t sure she had ever been so nervous in all her life. Maybe even more nervous on her journey to Willow Creek and her first night on land. It was so nice to be in fresh air. She inhaled deeply and reigned in the rest of the stray negative thoughts and concentrated on having a nice dinner with her favorite friend.
“Good evening,” the server said. “Are you ready to order?”
She hadn’t even looked at the menu yet. “Uhhh…I’ll have whatever you have.”
“Ok. Make that two lobster thermidor and two cosmopolitans.”
“Excellent choice,” the server said and collected their menus.
“So…do you want to talk about how it went?” Kevin asked.
She didn’t want to but figured she owed it to him seeing as how she barely said two words to him all day.
“I don’t think I did as well as I should.”
He looked disappointed. “What happened?”
“I was so scared! I couldn’t stop thinking bad thoughts. And then, I thought he was trying to trick me, and–
“No! Not like that. He was doing his job, but I was thinking too much.”
Kevin seemed to calm down. “Ok. Overall, how do you think it went?”
“It was good.”
“Ok! You have nothing to worry about. You’re not going anywhere. We won’t let that happen.”
The server sat their meal in front of them and told them to enjoy.
“I know,” Juliana said. “I just had a moment, I guess.”
“No more moments.” He picked up his glass. “A toast to you! May you live a long, healthy life here with us! And, may this process go smooth and fast, heh.”
She raised her glass. “To life… Salud, pesetas y amor y tiempo para gozarlos.”
He had that warm smile she loved again. “That sounds beautiful. What did you say?”
“Health, money and love and the time to enjoy them.”
“Well, that’s certainly worth drinking to.” He clinked his glass against hers and took a sip.
She raised the glass to her lips peered at him with a smile on her face. She could never thank the Humphries enough for their generosity and hospitality. Harriett taught her many things that shaped her life to the way it is now. She would not be the same person if it were not for her. But, even with all of that, meeting and befriending Kevin was by far the best experience of her life in Willow Creek. She looked forward to many more years of friendship with him.