Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 6 months, 2 days
♫ Duerme ya, dulce bien
Mi capullo de nardo.
como la abeja en la flor…
♫ Duerme ya, dulce bien
Duerme ya, dulce amor
Dulces sueños tendrás
al oir mi canción.
“Oh…hey,” Axel said. “I didn’t know you were in here.”
Juliana felt a bit warm on her face and hoped he didn’t hear her singing. She figured he wanted to visit with his niece and placed Abigail back into the crib. “She doesn’t want to nap today.”
“Cuz she knew Uncle Axe was coming. Ain’t that right, baby girl?”
Juliana’s ringing phone interrupted her laughter.
She rolled her eyes. “No.”
“Oh! You got another boyfriend? Kevin messed up already?”
She swatted at him as she answered the phone and went to her room. “Hello?”
“Paul! How are you?”
“Doing pretty good. How about you? We sure miss you.”
That was a tough question for her to answer. The random phone call made Paul’s concern for her clear, and she didn’t want to upset him further. As the days rolled on, it became harder to maintain her cheerful appearance, smiling and laughing on the outside while being miserable on the inside. She felt like she couldn’t tell anyone because either she might come across as ungrateful for what Harriett did, or people would pity and attempt to fix her. She didn’t want to be fixed; she wanted to figure things out on her own, but she had no clue where to begin.
“I am ok…I’m just so busy.”
“Yeah! Kevin told us about the promotion you got. Congrats, kid! How’s that going?”
So that’s how he explained it to them. Great. Now she had to live up to her friends’ expectations too.
“It’s…hard sometimes, but–“
“That’s always the case with new positions. I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it soon.”
She appreciated the vote of confidence. If only he knew the pain she went through every day.
“Well, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Just wanted to make sure you’re ok and let you know I was thinking ’bout ya.”
“Thank you, Paul. I miss you and everyone too. I hope to go back soon.”
“We’ll be here. Take your time and get your life straight. That’s more important than painting with us. Ok, you take care now!”
“I will. Bye bye.”
She sighed heavily as she hung up. If only “getting her life straight” was as simple as it sounded. He didn’t have to work with someone who hated him and made his life difficult for no reason.
When she went back to Hillary’s room, she found Axel cradling a very drowsy Abigail. “How did you do it?”
“She was hungry. Y’all ain’t feedin this child?”
Juliana chuckled. “She ate before.”
He sucked his teeth. “Y’all doin this the new school way? Please. Forget this schedule shi–uhh–crap. Hungry babies need food not stupid a–I mean silly rules.”
She laughed at his failed attempts to clean his speech in front of the baby.
“Is this what your daddy does,” he whispered. “Your punk ass daddy is one of those book parents? Ooops. You didn’t hear me say that.”
He kissed her forehead. Abigail’s eyes had closed, so he placed her back into the crib.
“You gon get you one of these?” he asked.
Her forehead wrinkled. “A baby?”
“Yeah. You gon have a lil Juliana Jr. running ’round here?”
She thought the question was so odd. “No, not now.”
“But you wanna have kids sometime, right?”
“Yes, but, I want to be married.”
“Good. Don’t be so easy to give it up,” he said in a serious tone.
She had no idea what he meant and grinned awkwardly. “Give what up?”
“You know…. The cookie…that good good…”
Still confused, she chuckled nervously.
“Don’t be spreadin your legs for no knuckleheads.”
She thought for sure her face was a red as her jacket. His personality was so brazen and bold. She never met anyone like him. He could be funny and serious in the same sentence, and most of the time she didn’t know what to think of him. But, somewhere between his silliness and strange way of speaking, she found a sincerity behind his words. She felt as though he genuinely cared about her. It was almost as if he saw her as just another younger sister. This care he extended toward her was another new experience she sometimes enjoyed. Back home, although she technically was the middle child, she was the oldest and always in a position of leadership and authority. But, there in Willow Creek, she was almost always the youngest person in all her circles. Being in charge was exhausting, and experiencing what it was like on the other side of the spectrum was weird yet cool. She liked the idea of having people look out for her. It was like having a bunch of older siblings.
“We better get outta here before she wakes back up.”
She was grateful for the change and end of that awkward conversation.
“What did you do to my room?” he asked as they passed her bedroom.
She had almost forgotten that used to be his room.
“Do you mind?”
She showed him in and he looked around.
“You like these loud colors, huh?” He walked around and looked at her work. “You did all this?”
He grinned mischievously. “You certainly have a lotta foxy ladies in here. Whatchu be thinkin bout?”
She shrugged sheepishly. “Just…feelings I have sometimes…”
He cocked his head. “Kevin know about these feelings?”
She rolled her eyes.
“You know I’m just messin.”
He walked toward the balcony door still looking at her work. “Oh…whatchu got goin on out here?”
“This is where I paint.”
The evening was her favorite time of day. She felt like the sun wanted to give one last stellar performance before it gave way to the moon and covered the earth with its golden light. That light blinded them as they stepped onto the balcony, but it was so beautiful.
“Ohhh, this is nice. Good thinkin. I never did anything with this space.”
He eyed her equipment. “This stuff is expensive. Mama got you this?”
She blushed. “Kevin.”
He laughed. “Of course.”
She was glad she didn’t have to experience being terrorized by older siblings at home. She knew they meant no harm, but it was a bit annoying at times.
“You’re really good, J. You outta be in a gallery somewhere.”
She smiled. “I will soon.”
“Let me guess…Kevin?”
His name came up far too much that day. She had been trying to live with her decision to delay more for a bit longer, but it wasn’t easy. She did want to be with Kevin but not at the expense of living the kind of life she always dreamed of. After she experienced life on her own, she would be more than glad to settle down and be with him forever.
“I’m just gon ask…what’s goin on with you two? Y’all keep circling ’round each other like two dogs in heat. You know that boy wants you, right?”
“And I know you want him, so what’s up?”
She shrugged. “I’m not ready.”
“Oh. I get it…I think…. Well, if you not ready yet, don’t let him pressure you. You do what’s right for you.”
Those were the same words Kevin said to her three days ago, but they still confused her. He usually didn’t say things he didn’t mean, and while he uttered those words genuinely, his actions didn’t add up. It seemed every time she did try to do what felt right, he didn’t appreciate it. Developing a friendship with Axel was the right thing to do, but Kevin’s lack of understanding made it feel wrong. Perhaps his advice only applied when it benefited him.