Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 6 months, 4 days
“Ok…I’m just gonna come out and ask…are you dating my brother?”
That word again. She knew just enough about dating to know there were amorous feelings involved. Her eyes narrowed quite a bit. How could she think such a ridiculous thing? Juliana laughed, however, when she considered how her friendship with Axel must look to everyone else. Nothing close to resembling desire existed between, but they were so friendly now. It was a stark contrast to the past.
“No! We just hang out.”
It felt so good to laugh with Hillary again, especially laughing at her. She didn’t often get the opportunity to have the upper hand. It was unfortunate, however. The two friends had not been close lately, and Juliana didn’t talk to her about Axel, Kevin, or anything in particular. They were perfect roommates. They worked together to maintain their dwelling, but they stay out of each other’s way. Juliana appreciated Hillary’s growth over the past few months, but she remained guarded. While she did not enjoy intentionally keeping details of her life from her friend, not opening herself up for betrayal appealed to her more.
Hillary’s eyes narrowed that time. She spoke slowly to make sure Juliana understood her. “With my brother…the douche bag who hurt you…”
Juliana didn’t often think about the past in that way, but she did think about the serendipity of their new friendship. Never in a million years would she have imagined the same lewd man who couldn’t keep his hands to himself, and threatened the integrity of her closest relationship, was now a friend who protected her. The situation was not conventional and very odd. She didn’t expect anyone to understand but wished more people would try.
“I forgave him…and he apologized. It’s ok now.”
Hillary’s face looked like she just received one of those “special messages” Abigail left for Jase. Juliana thought she offended her somehow.
“Forgave? Why on earth would you forgive him for what he did? If y’all keep getting chummy like that…. You don’t think he’ll do it again?”
She and Kevin were on the same team. It disappointed Juliana to know her two closest friends did not support the friendship between her and Axel. She hoped, with proper explanation, Hillary would understand. And for Kevin, she hoped he would come around soon. His actions were wrought from jealousy during the time he still struggled with his feelings for her. And, while she understood the reasons to be jealous, she wanted his support. Why didn’t he believe her when she said nothing untoward would happen and they were just friends? Was her word not good enough for him?
Forgiveness was already such an abstract concept. It would have been difficult to explain even in her own language. She slumped in her seat and drew upon her personal experiences and lessons from her mother to draft a response.
“Forgiveness is for you. The other person is still wrong, but you don’t have to feel heavy anymore.”
Hillary listened intently as if she were learning about it for the first time. Juliana found it difficult to believe Harriett never taught her these things. Maybe she didn’t explain it in a way she could understand.
“What do you mean…feel heavy?” she asked like she knew the answer but wanted to hear Juliana explain.
“Like…when you hurt…you think about what happened all the time. You feel bad. It’s not good for you.”
“The bad thoughts…they can, uhhh…I don’t know how to say it…. They have control?”
“They can control you, yeah. That’s good.”
“Ok, thanks. They can control you, and it’s like the other person controlling you. You forgive so the other person does not control you anymore.”
Juliana couldn’t tell if Hillary thought forgiveness was hogwash or if she hit a nerve. Hopefully, she would consider forgiving whoever controlled her–probably her father. Things had been going so well between them despite the catatonic state he had been in. She could still see how Hillary lived to please him.
“You never wanted him to apologize?” Hillary asked.
“Of course I did. But, I had to learn to be ok if he never did.”
“Hmph. You’re a better person than me,” she spat. “What about Kevin? Does he mind you hanging out with douche face?”
Juliana shook her head.
Poor Hillary. Juliana didn’t mind the subject change so she wouldn’t have to continue working her brain, but she wanted to continue the conversation because she knew she struck a nerve. Hillary needed this.
“I didn’t think so. Y’all still not dating?”
Juliana sighed and shook her head again. It had been a week, and she still wasn’t ready to think about how she rejected Kevin. She hadn’t heard from him since and hoped he was ok. In time, she knew he would show up after he got over it.
Hillary didn’t miss her brief lament and jumped all over it. “Uh oh! What happened?”
She didn’t want to say because of the teasing–or lecture–that would follow. But, in light of their conversation about forgiveness, and thinking about her friendship with Axel, Juliana decided she needed to extend the same level of trust to Hillary as she extended to him if they were going to repair their friendship.
“He finally told me his feelings–”
Hillary squealed. “It’s about doggone time! GEEZ! Maybe y’all can get somewhere now. So, what did you say?”
Oh no. She could feel the explosion coming. Why did she tell her? Hillary was not going to like her answer.
“I’m not ready…”
Hillary’s eyes squinted for a second, but then she relaxed her face. “Oh. Well, that’s disappointing. Hopefully he’ll be willing to wait for you. Pffft, he’s so in love with you, I’m sure he will.”
That was it? No yelling? No name calling? No teasing? She learned a lot in therapy. Just in case more would follow, Juliana changed the subject and shined the spotlight in Hillary’s eyes.
“What about you and Jase?”
Her eyes widened. Juliana knew she would be shocked as she never asked about her personal business before.
“Uhhh…we’re ok, I guess. Better than we were…” She paused for a moment and looked at Juliana like she realized something. “Did I ever tell you about us?”
“Oh.” She snorted. “I guess that’s one thing you and I have in common. We like to keep our secrets.”
Juliana flashed a quick grin. It was true, but she wasn’t sure how to feel about the statement. She had her reasons for keeping information close, and Hillary probably did too. Was there something wrong with that? Or, was she just stating the obvious?
“Jase always loved me…”
Juliana felt honored that Hillary would share their story with her. She knew the difficulty openness brought and felt bad she didn’t say more about Kevin. The next opportunity she had to be vulnerable with Hillary, she’d take it.
“I loved him too, but I didn’t want to. I tried not to. He was such a dork. And, he was always the fat kid everyone picked on. I wanted somebody gorgeous and popular…like a football player or something.” She lowered her eyes. “They didn’t want me…nobody but the sleazeballs did. I dated a lot of them, and Jase was always there to pick me up when they dropped me.”
Although the information was new, it resonated with Juliana. She recalled the look in Jase’s eyes when they first met. She could tell he loved her, but Hillary didn’t give him the time of day.
“Anyway, a little while ago, I got involved with someone I knew I shouldn’t have been involved with–”
Hillary gasped. “How did you know that?” She looked like she had just walked in on Juliana reading her diary or something.
Juliana shifted on her bean bag. “I met him.”
Hillary looked extremely confused. “What? How?”
“Axel took me to The Warehouse and he was there. He asked about you…Axel got really mad.”
Abigail awoke from her nap and began cooing like she wanted to join the conversation. Juliana enjoyed the talk and knew their time grew short.
“When was that?”
“A few months ago? Before you had the baby.”
“That makes sense,” she said under her breath.
“Nothing. Anyway…things ended with him, and I was feeling sorry for myself and went running to Jase like I always did. He tried to fix me, and…well, I let him try even though I knew it wouldn’t work. That’s how I got pregnant.”
Hillary sighed. “When I found out, I wasn’t sure which one was the daddy, but I just knew it was Jase. I went to tell him, but there was a woman at his house and I jumped to conclusions and ran away.”
Abigail began wailing, and Hillary hopped up to attend to her.
“Anyway, I already ruined his life once with the big fight we had after–I’m coming, little mama! I’m talking to Auntie Juliana.”
It was nice to know she still regarded her as family despite their closeness not being what it used to be.
“I know, you’re hungry…ok, ok, I know I’m not fast enough for you.”
Juliana snickered at the one-sided conversation.
“Ok, is that better now? You’re such a cute little demanding thing. Yes you are! Anyway, I didn’t realize how much I loved him until I knew he had moved on. I was scared to talk to him because I didn’t want to ruin his relationship, so I kept putting it off. But then mama died…” She tried to hide the coarseness in her voice and cleared her throat. “I couldn’t keep running from him. I went over there three weeks before she was born. Turns out the woman I met was his cousin!”
“Yeah, I felt really dumb. Anyway, we talked, and I kept apologizing for what I did and for waiting so long to tell him. I finally said I love you…. We agreed that he needed to learn to trust me again before anything happens. That’s where we are…just getting reacquainted and raising our daughter together as best we can.”
“Do you want to marry Jase?”
“I’d like that…but we’re not there yet. I think we have a long way to go before we’re ready for that.”
That was an interesting thought. A very encouraging thought at that. Hillary spoke about marriage as if it were some far away goal whereas at home it was something that happened fairly quickly. She and everyone else threw around this term “dating” flippantly like it wasn’t that big of a deal. It couldn’t have been that serious if she thought Juliana was dating her brother. This dating thing was intriguing and could possibly be the solution to her conundrum with Kevin; Juliana wanted to learn more about it. If it was possible she and Kevin could be together without worrying about getting married and having a family, she definitely wanted to do it.