Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 4 months, 1 week, 1 day
The room brimmed with friends and family who gathered after the service for refreshment and support. Harold sat in his usual spot in front of the television not watching but staring at the hypnotizing colored pixels. He sat there, motionless, while everyone around him tried to offer comforting words.
“She looked so beautiful,” some said.
“She’s in a better place,” others said.
He didn’t care what place she was in. She wasn’t next to him anymore. That was the only place he wanted her to be.
Across the room, Trish sat next to Kevin. He had heard of her from Juliana’s work stories but never met her face-to-face. He introduced himself, and they got acquainted.
“What’s gonna happen to the library? Like, am I out of a job now?”
He thought she was a piece of work, and it amused him to see what Juliana told him in action.
Back on Harold’s side, Payton Gunter arrived with her own flavor of encouragement.
“I’m very sorry about your wife,” she said.
“Your daughter…she’s so lovely. We love having her work with us.” Her face glowed.
Harold felt proud hearing of Hillary’s success, but he wasn’t in a place to express it at the moment and simply nodded again.
Axel attempted to rescue him from all the attention. “Pops…you wanna sip a lil somethin?”
He patted his father’s knee and remained his silent companion.
In the kitchen, Hillary sat alone with her thoughts. The sizzling of whatever the caterer was cooking served as nice white noise. Unfortunately, someone interrupted her solitude and joined her at the table.
“The service was so beautiful,” the woman said.
Hillary flashed a quick smile. Rebecca rushed in to check on the status of the food. The caterer’s pace wasn’t acceptable. After encouraging her to pick up the pace, Rebecca trudged to the table and gazed upon her sister as if she saw her for the first time that day.
“That’s a beautiful dress,” she said.
“Thanks. I like it too.” She often felt like a child around Rebecca. The way they were raised, children gave way to adults with no questions asked. She gave up her seat and squeezed past the other woman to sit in the corner. It didn’t make much sense given her physical state, but nothing made sense that week. “I’ve actually never had a little black dress before. Maybe I’ll get another when I’m not so…” She motioned her hands around her womb.
Rebecca grinned. “She’s grown so fast these last few weeks! Mama would have…”
The words got caught in her throat. She looked like she would cry at any moment and swallowed hard to keep everything in. “I need to check on daddy.” She hurried out of the room.
Hillary wished she would take a break from caring for everyone and allow herself to feel the pain for a moment. Watching her shuffle about frantically sent her back into her thoughts. Rebecca’s futile attempts at not being like Harriett made her chuckle. Rebecca had a negative and sometimes cold attitude at times, and she had different experiences, but inside, she and her mother were the same. They never let anyone know what took place on the inside. They busied themselves with everyone else’s stuff and put themselves on the back burner. Everything was always fine. This attempt at not becoming her mother even affected how she raised her children. She wanted them to grow up with the same traditional family values she learned. But, when she found herself nagging like her mother, she backed off and let them do whatever they wanted. Subsequently, she had four monsters at home. However, in that moment, Hillary was sure she would have given anything to hear that nagging voice again.
Hillary figured she had hidden long enough and joined everyone in the living room. She found Rebecca trying her darnedest to be a good host, but she was failing. While she sat in the kitchen, she wasn’t thinking about her favorite moments with her mother. She thought of her family. Who would take care of everyone now? Standing there, looking around the room at her broken father, lost brother, and frantic sister, she could draw only one conclusion. I will. It’s my turn.
Harold had gotten up and walked out. Rebecca’s pain filled eyes followed him.
“Hey,” Hillary said. “Why don’t you sit down for a minute. You’ve been running around all day.”
“I’m fine, Hillary. I need to make more tea.” Her tone was curt. Before she dashed away she took another look at her sister. “You make me nervous in those heels. Why don’t you sit down? You shouldn’t be up so much.”
Hillary rolled her eyes as her sister ran off. Any excuse would do for Rebecca whether it was rational or not.
“Hill.” Her brother motioned for her to sit next to him.
She attempted to fill the caring shoes again. “Do you want anything?”
“Nah. You stay here. Look like you gon fall over or somethin.”
He got up, and she sighed in frustration. How could she care for everyone if no one let her do anything?
Her nieces and nephews came out of hiding throughout the afternoon. They must have been upstairs hanging out in her room all day. Sloane sat next to Miss Gunter. Seeing her grandfather’s pouty face must have put everything into perspective for her because she lost it.
“I can’t believe granny is gone!”
Miss Gunter tried to comfort her, but she jumped out of her seat and prepared to make a run for it. However, she saw her mother drifting toward her brother. She looked terrible.
“Mama? Are you… Can I get you somethin?”
Rebecca groaned. “Where are the other two?”
“Still upstairs,” Terry said.
Rebecca did an about-face and went to check on her young ones. After she walked away, Sloane moved in closer to her brother.
“Take care of mama,” she whispered. “I can’t stay here.”
“Why not? Where are you going?”
“It’s too sad here! I don’t wanna be sad…”
“Are you kidding me? Granny just died, and you’re gonna go screw some douche? Have some respect, Sloane!”
“But…Terry! Come on! No one is gonna miss me. Look at ’em. They’re all too sad!”
Hillary and her nieces and nephews weren’t the only ones hiding out.
Juliana appreciated Kevin, her art club buddies, and Trish coming to support her and the family, but she felt so out of place in the midst of all those people who knew and loved Harriett for years. Staying out of the way seemed like a good idea. Behind her, the door opened, and her gig was up. She had been expecting Kevin to come find her for the past hour, but to her surprise, the visitor was not him.
“Why you out here all by yourself?”
She closed her mouth and tried to recover from the unexpected surprise. “I… I just…” She didn’t feel the need to explain herself to him and simply shrugged.
“Yeah. It’s a lot of folks in there. Too much sad talk.”
He fidgeted with his pockets and kept shifting his weight. She wondered what he wanted to say. She always knew one day they’d come face-to-face again. He couldn’t stay away from his family forever, and she wouldn’t want him to.
“Listen… I know you don’t like me and probably wish it was me in that box instead of mama–“
“I’m playin. I know you don’t want me around though.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes. She hated when people made assumptions and didn’t let her explain.
“I’m gonna be around though, and I need you to be ok with that.”
She suspended eye contact with him but nodded.
“Look…I know I can’t take it back, but… I know I was a jerk. And… Well, I’m sorry.”
At last. The apology she wanted but never expected to get. It was nice to hear, but she didn’t need it anymore. She had forgiven him a long time ago so she could move on with her life. Still, it was comforting to know he was penitent and wanted to maintan a civil existence with her.
“I don’t hate you,” she said.
He looked surprised and a bit pleased. “You don’t? It’s ok you know. You don’t have to be nice just cuz… Well…you know.” He hung his head.
“I don’t hate you anymore,” she said in a stern tone.
“Hmph,” he snorted. He looked confused but also like he admired her. “You know…you talk real good now. Guess mama’s still got it… Had it…” His eyes reddened and puffed up.
She grinned as she recalled all those months they spent upstairs at the library. “She was a good teacher. Tough, but good.”
He snorted. “Yeah, I always heard she was hard. So glad I never got her.”
She was excited and intrigued by new information about Harriett. Her face lit up like fireworks. “You went to her school?”
“Yeah. It was embarrassing as hell.”
They laughed together. The door behind her opened again. She got tense. He was too late.
“There you are,” Kevin said. “Have you been out here the whole time?”
“Are you ok? Do you need anything?”
Of course she didn’t need anything. This was her house. She shook her head and tried to maintain eye contact with Axel. The conversation was the first pleasant one she had all day, and she wanted to hear more about Harriett as a teacher. But, she knew he would leave when Kevin arrived. For the first time, she wished he would let her be. He always doted on her and inserted himself into her space. She loved the attention and closeness, of course, but sometimes she wanted him to leave her alone.