Time in Willow Creek: 1 year, 6 months, 1 week
“…yeah, I know, right? … Please, I don’t do much of anything these days…I make her do it! … Because she’s a retard! She just sits at the front desk all day looking like a sad lost puppy… She doesn’t know anything! How do you think I get away with so much? … Well, she needs to go back where she came from. I get tired of all these stupid foreigners smuggling their way into our country and taking all our jobs! And we have to pay taxes to support these freeloaders? Puh! Learn Simlish! Maybe I’ll respect them then… Whatever! I can barely understand what she’s saying half the time. I don’t know how her boyfriend does it… Yeah, and he’s rich too…some nerve. What’s he doing with her anyway? I refuse to believe he has problems finding nice American girls to date… I’m just saying! …What? That’s not racist! All I’m saying is a man like that is supposed to stick to his own kind, that’s all… Ha! Whatever… Why would I be jealous? I’m taken… We don’t have to be married for me to say I’m taken! … Whatever…I gotta go. This place will be crawling with kids in a few minutes. Then I expect the Brown Queen to come out from hiding… Heh, what other job would I get? You know our family is full librarians… It’s other people’s kids I don’t like. I’m going to love MY lima bean with all my heart… You’re crazy! Ok, gotta go. Later.”
Day after day, Juliana overheard similar conversations when she took refuge in the office. Every single conversation hurt but none as much as that one. Nothing she said or did could change Trish’s mind about her. Juliana simply wasn’t good enough. Mamá taught her about sticks and stones; she was such a sensitive child. The older she got, the thicker her skin grew, but the situation at work reminded her of everything she left at home and what her family still suffered. It hurt in a place that would probably always be tender. Sometimes, however, she was encouraged by her new lot in life and knew she didn’t have to suffer like that day after day. She could speak up for herself or do something about it. If only she could muster the courage to do it.
Later in the afternoon, when she got herself together, she ventured out of the office and found her place at the front desk. She longed for the days when she found the library to be a cold, empty tomb. Now it was like a small room with walls closing in on her. The limited air supply suffocated her, and there was no escape.
“I can’t lift anything heavy anymore…and I can’t bend or raise anything above my head. Doctors orders,” Trish said in a lackadaisical yet daring tone.
Juliana’s shoulders slumped, and she let the air out of her lungs. “But…then I have to do the shelving and the cargo by myself.”
Trish shrugged. “That’s not my problem anymore, boss lady.”
Juliana felt so defeated. She practically ran the entire library by herself even when Trish was present. Trish refused to work any Saturdays; She took more time off than anyone Juliana ever knew; She said it was beneath her to do any tasks that were part of a library assistant’s job description; She refused to work in the children’s section; She refused to help Juliana plan their next program; And now, she couldn’t even put a book on the shelf. Maybe she should be the one sitting at the front desk. What exactly did she want to be paid to do?
That night, when she finally arrived home, she skipped dinner–again–and ran upstairs to her room, changed into comfortable clothes, and lay on the bed. She needed silence. Something needed to be done; she knew that. But, what? The situation was completely foreign to her.
Juliana was in such terrible shape. The library drama weighed on her and grew heavier until she crumbled under it. She kept everything bottled inside, and it got the best of her. Wallowing in self-pity usually wasn’t her thing, but some days it was all she could do.
A polite knock interrupted her precious silence. She didn’t want to see anyone and ignored it.
The vibrations from his smooth voice coursed through her body and begin to break up the piles of garbage she had been housing for so long. She didn’t know how much she needed him until she felt herself begin to fall apart.
“Juliana? It’s me…Kevin.”
Slowly, she sat up and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. They were so heavy. She had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and each step felt labored. If she could just make it to the door, everything would be fine. He was safe. He would understand. She wouldn’t find any judgment in him. She could fall apart, and he would catch her. He always did.
She opened the door and lost it upon first glance at his concerned face. Falling into his chest, she sobbed uncontrollably much like she did in the hospital. His comforting arms did not miss a beat and wrapped themselves around her. One hand cradled her head, and the other rested on the small of her back.
He didn’t immediately ask questions. He just stepped into her bedroom, closed the door and held tight. Her chest rose and fell quickly, squeezing out tears and soaking his jacket with every sob. Her legs followed whatever direction her body was pulled as he led her to the bed. The comforting arms never let go and drew her closer to him as she continued to sob. Under normal circumstances, she would have been surprised to find his soft lips pressed against her forehead, but she was almost too overcome to notice.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” he said in a calm voice.
She was still crying into his chest. “I can’t do it!”
The hand that cradled her head stroked her thick, black locks.
“I can’t handle this!” She sat up at looked into his worried eyes. “Why did she do this to me?”
That name caused another round of painful sobs to erupt. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a handkerchief just like the hero in the movies. He gently dabbed her cheeks and handed it to her to blow her nose. A strange combination of pain and joy weaved through her body. She trusted this man with everything she had and couldn’t help but cast all her cares upon him for he cared immensely. Never once did she doubt how much he cared. Not even when he frustrated her in his confused and jealous state.
She blew her nose and tried to catch her breath. “Why did she leave me? I don’t know how to do anything!” She didn’t know what she was saying, but words continued to flow in between sobs. “Trish HATES me! She treat me so cruel in front of everyone!”
She saw his nostrils flare and jaw stiffen. Although she recognized it was an empathetic anger, she never wanted to upset him and withheld her feelings. But, he needed to know. She needed him to know so she could find the comfort and encouragement she so desperately needed.
“I don’t know what to do! I don’t know about being the boss! I don’t want this! I wish I was someone else! I don’t want to do it anymore!”
His angry face melted into a pool of pity, and his hand rose to her face to wipe tears with his thumb. “Hey, hey, none of that.” He cupped her face in his palms. “You can do this!”
She wanted so desperately to believe him, but she was beyond the point of repair and wanted out.
“I know all of this happened very suddenly, and you feel unprepared, but you’re more prepared than you think you are.”
His face was so kind, just the way she remembered the first time she saw him at The Warehouse. And, his voice was so soothing. None of it helped.
“I’m not! I don’t have school, and I don’t know anything!”
He put his finger to her lips and shushed her. “Listen to me,” he said in his serious voice, “Don’t throw away everything Harriett taught you just because of some bully. There is no one who is more suited for this job than you are!”
She wanted to roll her eyes. He always thought he knew better than her and tried to fix her. She didn’t want to be fixed. She wanted out.
“You worked side-by-side with Harriett for more than a year! You know that place inside and out. She knew no one else would care about it like you do. That’s why she left it to you. You’re perfect for this! Sure, there are things you’ll need to figure out, but never say you don’t know anything. You already possess everything you need. You just need to trust it and not be afraid.”
He grabbed her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Despite not wanting to be fixed, his words were like nourishing fertilizer on seed. The sprout wasn’t ready to break through the membrane yet, but all kinds of growth was happening on the inside. She had been so overwhelmed, she failed to see things from that perspective. Although she still wanted out, she willed herself to consider his words.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” she squeaked out before bursting into tears and falling into his chest again.
His hands and arms found their positions again and went to work, stroking and squeezing where appropriate. Once again, his lips found their way to her forehead, and she noticed. It was nice.
“You’re gonna be ok, Juliana. Maybe just take a few days for yourself. Get some rest…. Do something fun…. Figure out a plan?”
It was a great idea. She knew she needed it but lacked the courage to do it.
Her tears slowed significantly, but she wasn’t in the talking mood yet. Still, she wanted to show her appreciation for his stalwart support and squeezed him a bit tighter in return. They sat like that, snuggled tightly in each other’s embrace, for what felt like forever. If he wanted to hold her for eternity, she wouldn’t object.
“Can I ask you something?” he asked.
She hadn’t found her voice yet and waited for him to continue.
“When I was here last, you said you weren’t ready to be with me. May I ask why?”
She pulled away from him and considered her answer, looking at her shoes. It really didn’t require much thought, but she didn’t want to be misunderstood. She remembered the thoughts she had a few days ago about dating. Maybe he could help her understand what she needed to know.
“I’m not ready to marry.”
His eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Get married?” He chuckled nervously. “I wasn’t proposing to you. I just–”
“I know. I…” She paused for a time to think of the right words to form a clear message. “I’m not used to how things are here. In my country, when a man and woman like each other, they soon marry and have a family. I like you, but I don’t want that to happen yet. But, people talk about this date thing and not getting married and…I’m so confused.”
Kevin laughed. “Well, according to everyone, you and I have been dating for quite some time, so I can see how you’d be confused thanks to my mixed signals.”
At last! He confirmed her suspicions about what they were doing. But, what did it mean? Were they in a relationship already? Is that the way things happened? She always imagined getting asked to be someone’s girlfriend was almost as serious (and romantic) as being proposed to. If he was her boyfriend already, did that mean they could keep dating and not get married right away? Could she have Kevin and still be independent?
“Dating is the first step toward marriage, but it doesn’t have to happen right away. It doesn’t have to happen at all. Heh, one day you might be so pissed you’ll never want to see me again.”
“You’re still getting used to cultural differences, and you haven’t been in this position before, so I know it might be scary for you. I don’t want you to feel pressured or like everything has to change, so if you’re really not ready, I’ll be ok with that.” He grabbed her hands again. “But, I like you…a lot. I’m here and not going anywhere regardless of what you decide. I just wanna be your guy.”
His eyes twinkled as he smiled. She felt so warm inside. But, she was also afraid. This relationship business was foreign to her, and she had no reference from which to form an opinion. She either had to reject him a second time and stick to her original plan, and potentially lose him despite what he just said, or she could go with it and learn something new. After all, she wanted to experience life on that side of the pond, and dating was part of that life. But, it was scary out there in the darkness of the unknown. There was one thing she knew about Kevin and darkness, however. Whenever she held out her hand for guidance, he was always right there to lead her. She trusted him to do that and decided to continue trusting him.
“Ok,” she said nervously.
His smile was so cheesy. “Ok, so…I’m your guy?”
A full smile transformed her face for the first time that night. It wasn’t the romantic scenario she always had in her head, but she felt even more favored and special than she ever imagined.
“You’re my guy.”