Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 4 months, 2 weeks, 5 days
Hillary and Rebecca huddled around the master bedroom chest of drawers with empty cardboard boxes strewn around them. They couldn’t speak. The task ahead of them was an ominous one they preferred to skip, but it needed to be done eventually. Rebecca thought they should pack up their mother’s clothes and donate them to charity. “It’s what mama would want,” she said. Hillary agreed. She still needed to tell her about the pills she found. There was never a good time to bring it up. Everyone was still quite shaken, and she didn’t want to make the pain any worse. She considered tossing them before her sister arrived, but it felt deceitful; she deserved to know. And, given her bent toward being like Harriett, perhaps the discovery would help with her the tendencies to keep everything inside.
“Becca…I need to show you something. You’re not gonna like it.”
She watched her sister’s eyebrows wrinkle as she retrieved a plastic bag from the back of the first drawer. As she emptied its contents onto the dresser, Rebecca gasped and clutched invisible pearls. She looked horrified, confused and afraid.
Hillary sighed. “You didn’t know either.”
“What is all this?” Rebecca’s breaths were so quick, Hillary thought she might start hyperventilating.
She hesitated. “Heart stuff…high cholesterol and high blood pressure.”
Rebecca’s face reddened almost as bright as her hair. “I told mama she needed to start eating better! All that butter and lard she used! I wouldn’t be surprised if we all had high cholesterol!”
Before the pregnancy, Hillary didn’t frequent the doctor much. Thanks to all those visits in the past six months, she had a clear picture of what her health was like. She wasn’t in any danger, but she could stand to make better choices.
Rebecca began ripping drawers open and throwing their contents into the boxes. Hillary teared up and regretted telling her although she knew it was the right thing.
Rebecca stopped and stood up straight. “How could she hide this from us?”
“You know why,” Hillary said timidly.
Rebecca opened her mouth, probably to contest her, but she couldn’t. She went back to filling boxes but not as forceful that time.
Hillary took the opportunity to change the subject. “I, ummmm…I talked to Jase…”
Rebecca looked at her wide-eyed as if she had just remembered him. “Is he ok?”
“Uhh…well, not really.”
“Poor thing.” She kept packing boxes.
Hillary’s stomach filled with butterflies. Hiding the baby’s paternity had been easy. Now it was time for the world to know. “I kinda…dropped a few bombs on him the same night…”
Rebecca’s eyes went wide again. “Well what in the world did you tell him?”
She felt like she was going to be sick. Throughout her teenage and adult life, she had been accused of having feelings for Jase. She denied those allegations until she couldn’t ignore them anymore. Coming to terms with those feelings was surprisingly easy, but the difficult part was yet to be seen. She anticipated mocking and “I told you so,” and even disappointment. Dr. Still’s work remained cut out in regards to smashing those unrealistic expectations Hillary had when it came to men but also herself and her family.
“I told him…”
Rebecca made her nervous the way she stood there looking directly into her scared eyes.
“…I told him he might be a daddy…”
Rebecca gasped. At first, she said nothing. But, then her expression turned confused. “You and Jase?”
Hillary opened her mouth a few times to address the unspoken parts of the question, but everything felt like too much. She couldn’t explain her romp with Jase without divulging her romps with Don. Perhaps some time in the future when she wasn’t so emotional and broken she would share those things with her sister, but until then, everything was on a strict need to know basis.
“I don’t want to explain….We’re not together…if that’s what you want to know. I made a mistake.”
Her sister looked like she was trying to weigh words but was also coming up short. “Is there a chance that you will be together in the future?”
“Maybe. I hope so. He’s open to it.”
“Well…” She stuck her nose in the air. “Whatever happened, I hope you two can work it out. Things are a lot more complicated in raising children when parents aren’t together….What’s the matter?”
A contraction started. She held her womb and exhaled slowly with her eyes closed. It was the strongest one she experienced so far, but quick.
“Maybe you should sit. I can take care of this.”
Rebecca grinned and put her palms and her sister’s belly. “This is so exciting. I can’t believe I had to wait until I’m almost 50 to be an aunt!”
It never occurred to Hillary that Rebecca was not an aunt. She had been one nearly her entire life. Because she was close in age to her nieces and nephews, she never felt that special bond Rebecca felt in that moment. Hillary was 16 when Mallory was born. She remembered feeling excited, but she was too occupied with charming boys and playing with Jase to get to know the child.
“Hello, sweet girl! Are you packing up? You can’t wait to meet Aunt Becky, huh? Not yet, ok? Just a little while longer.”
Hillary snorted. “Aunt Becky?”
“Yes, Aunt Becky. I was always going to be Aunt Becky.”
Hillary thought it was interesting she would name herself that. She never liked it when people called her by that nickname. Maybe it was personal to her somehow.
The excitement about the pending arrival of her daughter increased day by day. In three more weeks, she would hold her and cover her with kisses. The little girl would have a father, an aunt, an uncle, a grandfather, cousins and an honorary aunt waiting to shower her with love. All of the furniture Rebecca bought had been assembled. The drawers were stocked and the walls decorated. Everything was ready to go, and she had everything she needed…except for Harriett. But, that was the new normal and would always be the case, and Hillary was determined to not let her mother’s absence keep her from being excited about her baby. She couldn’t help but see how the timing of everything was so telling. Harriett died, and weeks later the baby would be born. The circle of life was at work. She would always cry for her mother, but the tears needed to make way for joy.
Meanwhile, across the street, joy was not part of Juliana’s day.
Ever since Harriett’s death, she and Trish had been operating as normal while they waited to for someone to tell them the fate of the library. They were not sure who the news would come from, but they waited like innocent men on death row. At last, the moment they were waiting for came, but not at all the way they expected. The previous day, the Humphries family found themselves in the office of Harriett’s lawyer. It was time to read the will. They were all surprised yet touched that she would leave the library to Juliana. Rebecca went to the house afterward to give her what she considered to be fabulous news. Juliana was terrified and didn’t think it was fabulous at all. Being Harriett’s shadow for a year prepared her to be an excellent library assistant and maybe even a real librarian if she ever decided to pursue a degree in library science. But, the owner? The boss? What did she know about taking care of maintenance issues, filing taxes, or even how the library was funded? Why would Harriett do this to her? Who was going to tell Trish? She was too afraid and shocked to ask Rebecca for help. And Kevin, well, she didn’t want to make a habit of calling him for every little thing. Would he do it for her? Most certainly. But, that was just it. She would only ask him because she knew he would move Heaven and Earth for her; it felt manipulative. She didn’t want him fighting battles for her she knew she should fight on her own. If she had any plans on being truly independent, she needed to grow up and handle her own business. At least, that was what she made herself believe. Deep inside, she wanted someone–anyone–to take care of it. She could be grown up some other time.
Sleep evaded her that night. There was no scenario where Trish took the news well unless a miracle happened. Juliana was desperate enough to wish Harriett’s spirit would be hovering in the library at the time and influenced Trish’s reaction some kind of way. But, she knew it was a reach. As she lay in bed, she thought about how she could do it. Perhaps getting there early and catching her right when she walked in the door would work. But, it would probably feel too much like an ambush.
Juliana cried many tears that night. To be honest, Trish was the least of her worries. What worried her the most was filling Harriett’s enormous shoes. The library was more than just a place to get information and entertainment. It was a staple in the community. It was a safe haven. A lighthouse in the darkness. An escape. And, it was all up to Juliana to continue. She should have been honored, but it made her terribly afraid.
After there were no more tears left to cry, the Sandman took pity on her and slipped into bed. In the morning, she felt a heaviness hovering over her head. It took a while to get up and ready, and she arrived a little bit later than usual but early enough to talk to Trish before the doors opened. Juliana was as nervous as she’d ever been. When the words finally came out of her mouth, Trish responded as well as she expected.