Time in Willow Creek: 6 weeks
The next few weeks were life changing for Juliana. Harriett took her wherever she went and made every encounter a learning moment. That mostly meant she spent a lot of time at the Community Library, but Juliana didn’t mind. She was just glad that her days of wandering aimlessly around Willow Creek, sleeping in open air, and eating stale burgers were over. She liked Harriett a great deal and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to show her appreciation. Harriett, of course, had a strong affinity for Juliana that grew each day. Although she had her own children, Juliana became more like a daughter to her and less like a charitable cause.
Juliana’s Simlish was progressing at a good pace. No one expected her to be fluent yet, but her renewed, beamish sense of purpose and pride drove her to work hard and learn as fast as she could. She devoured the books in the children’s section of the library like that first stack of pancakes she had on her first day at the Humphries’ home. True, she was only reading on the “see spot run” level, but she was reading. She always read the books aloud to make sure she pronounced the words as best she could.
Harriett was proud of Juliana. Not just because of her progress, but because of her work ethic. Juliana reminded her a lot of herself back in the save the school days. She thought she was an amazing person and knew that she would go far in whatever she decided to do with her life.
One day, Hillary decided to go to the library to see how Juliana was doing. Seeing as how she had been Harriett’s shadow for the past few weeks, Hillary hadn’t really seen her much. Harriett liked opening the library at 7:00 a.m. She usually came home for lunch, but she had been taking Juliana out to see more of the town and give her more learning experiences. The library closed at 8:00, and they would return home for dinner. Sometimes Hillary would be out already.
“Hey there, stranger,” Hillary said.
“eh-lo,” Juliana said with a smile on her face.
“If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought you left us!”
“Look! I read,” Juliana announced with pride.
“Awww!” Hillary sat down and listened to Juliana read to her.
Harriett heard Hillary’s voice from her office and joined them.
“Look et tha boy. He wear eh red het. He like to play. He play with tha bleck dog. Tha boy and tha bleck dog play all dey. Tha boy love tha dog.”
“Juliana! You read so well!”
“She’s a star student,” Harriett said. “Still needs help with those s’s at the end of words though.”
“She’ll get there, mama. I know she will! I think she deserves a day off, don’t you think?”
“Of course she does. Y’all have fun.”
“Juliana, do you want to hang out with me?”
She didn’t completely understand the question, but she nodded anyway. All she knew was that Hillary was her friend, and anything her friend asked of her was bound to turn out well.
“Bye, Juliana,” Harriett said. “Have fun!”
“Bye,” Juliana said and waved.
The two friends left the library and went to the new shopping promenade. Shopping was new to Juliana. It’s not that she didn’t know what it was, but she had never done it before. Growing up in a poor village did not lend itself to the luxuries of buying new clothes. Whenever she did get new clothes, it came in the form of a present from her mother. Hillary dragged her from store to store trying on outfits that she never even dreamed she would wear. They giggled and posed and had a great time like two teenage girls. Juliana was beyond happy. She felt like a princess. They didn’t buy anything, but wearing new clothes, even for a brief moment, made her feel special.
“Hey! You want to meet my friend Jase?”
Hillary whipped out her phone and dialed Jase’s number. He never waited for the second ring when she called. “Hill! How lovely of you to acknowledge my existence. What’s happening?”
“Come meet Juliana!”
“Oh! Ummm, now?”
“Yes, now! Meet us at The Warehouse. Bye!” She rarely asked Jase to do anything because she knew he would do just about anything she told him to.
Hillary and Juliana hailed a cab and took the 25-minute ride to Oasis Springs. This was Juliana’s first time outside of Willow Creek. She liked Oasis Springs because it reminded her of home a little. Actually, Monte Vista and Oasis Springs look nothing alike, but some of the architecture in Oasis Springs was similar to the architecture in Monte Vista.
They arrived at The Warehouse first.
“You drink, Juliana?”
“You ever had a drink? Like…not water or juice?”
“Not water or juice…” Juliana repeated trying to think of what it meant.
“I’ll buy you one and see how you like it. Oh look…there’s Jase.”
Jase got out of the cab and walked toward his best friend and her new friend. Hillary embraced him. “Jase…this is Juliana! Juliana, this is my best friend, Jase!”
“Best friend?” Although she was still learning the language, Juliana could tell that there was something more between them. It hadn’t manifested itself yet, but there was something. The longing in Jase’s eyes told her that.
“We’ve known each other since we were babies. He’s the best.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Juliana. I’ve heard so much about you.”
“Nice to mit you,” Juliana said carefully.
“Her accent is so cool. Where are you from, Juliana?”
“Yes. What country are you from?”
“Monte Vista? I hear it’s beautiful there.”
“How ’bout we all go inside and chat. It’s hot out here,” Hillary suggested.
The trio went inside and took seats at a table upstairs. Juliana was a little nervous.
She had never been to a bar or club. She only recently turned 18 and never went to the taverns in her village. The closest she had ever come to a place where people drank was the village festivals. Everyone in the village would come together in a large field to eat, drink, and be merry for a day. The festivals were a nice escape from the everyday life of poverty and strife. Festival days were the only days everyone–even the criminals and troublemakers–behaved peacefully.
“Can I buy you ladies a drink?”
“Get me Juice on the Rocks. Get her one too.”
“Does she drink?”
“I don’t know. Guess we’ll find out.”
“Coming right up!” Jase got up and ordered the drinks. He told the bartender not to made them strong and brought them back to the table. “All right…Juice on the Rocks for everyone.” He placed a glass in front of each.
Although Juliana had never stepped a foot inside of a bar, she knew where she was and had figured out which “drinks” Hillary was referring to. Her only experience with drinking was from the festivals. The adults would drink and were very merry. Her parents didn’t. Her timid hand reached out to take the glass. Part of her was excited about taking her first drink as this would be the first “adult” thing she had ever done. But, the other part of her was a bit lamentable. Growing up, she had dreams about things she wanted to do when she grew up. Adult life was going to be nothing like she imagined. Mostly, it was a good thing, but there were people she loved missing from those dreams.
“Are you ok, Juliana?” Hillary asked.
“Yes.” She raised the glass to her lips and took a small sip. The sweetness of the drink was nice. She squeezed her eyes shut when the bitter aftertaste assaulted her tongue.
Hillary and Jase laughed as they expected that reaction. “You remember our first drink? I can’t believe we broke into your dad’s drink cabinet! How old were we? Like…12?”
“Yeah. As if my dad didn’t already hate me enough. Do you like it, Juliana?”
Jase began talking to Hillary while Juliana’s eyes began to roam around the club. There were many pieces of art around and wanted to go check them out. “I can look?” she asked while pointing at a painting.
“Sure, go ahead.”
Juliana got up and went downstairs. She loved art. She wasn’t terribly good at painting yet, but she painted as often as she could. Before coming to Willow Creek, her dream was to be a painter extraordinaire and sell her own collections in an art gallery. She walked along the walls, looking at all the paintings when she was interrupted by a man. “They are beautiful, aren’t they?”
Juliana was a bit startled by him. People normally didn’t strike up conversations with her. But, she thought he had a kind face. She smiled at him and went back to viewing the portrait.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just that people don’t normally come to a bar to look at art, so I saw we had something in common.”
Juliana kept looking at the artwork. She had no clue what this dude was saying, but he had a nice voice too.
“Forgive me. I’m being terribly rude. My name is Kevin. What’s your name?”
She wasn’t sure if she should give him her name or ignore him. She hadn’t come across any unsavory charlatans yet, but she knew a lot of them back home. But, he had a really kind face.
“It is very nice to meet you, Juliana. That’s a really beautiful name. If you don’t mind me asking…where are you from? I couldn’t help but notice your accent.”
“Ahhh! I know that place well. I have business partners there.”
“Juliana,” Hillary interrupted. “There you are! I thought you ran off. Who’s your cute friend?”
“I’m Kevin Garland.” He extended his hand to her.
“I’m Hillary Humphries. The pleasure is all mine.”
“It’s nice to meet all of you. Juliana and I were just talking about art and Monte Vista.”
“Oh! Were you now? Well, I would hate to break this up, but we have to go now. Say goodbye, Juliana.”
“Goodbye, Juliana. I hope to run into you again.”
Jase had already called a cab which was outside waiting for them. They piled into the cab and headed toward home.
“He was really cute, Juliana!”
“What is cute?”
“You know…like, good-looking, handsome, gorgeous…”
“Ay, guapo. Ok.”
“Is that how your people say it? Guapo? I’ll have to remember that one.”
Jase rolled his eyes and said, “I should have gotten my own cab,” under his breath.
“What was that, Jase?”
“I said, I should have gotten my own cab!”
Hillary looked at Juliana and said, “This is what you call jealous.”
“No one is jealous.”
The rest of the ride was silent. When the cab arrived at Umbrage Manor, Hillary pulled out her purse and started to fish for her wallet.
Jase pulled out his wallet and said, “Go ahead. I got it.”
“I do have money…somewhere in here.”
“It’s ok. I got it.”
“No, I can pay my own fare.”
“Hillary,” he said in a stern voice. “I have this. Please, go ahead.”
“Why do you always do this?”
Jase felt hopeless. He did everything to try to make her understand, but she still didn’t get it. Sometimes he felt like giving up on her, but he couldn’t bring himself to stop trying. “Goodnight, Juliana. Driver, I’ll pay for this whole trip at my stop. Thanks.”
She got out of the car and slammed the door although she wasn’t sure why. It seemed appropriate at the time. They went inside and found Harold and Harriett having dinner.
“Hey, mama. Hey, daddy.”
“You been spendin’ my money?” Harold asked.
“No, daddy. I just took Juliana out for some fun.”
“Let her alone, Harold. What did y’all do?”
“We went to–“
“Uh uh, let Juliana tell me. What did you do today, Juliana?”
Harold already made her nervous, and now she was in the spotlight. She hesitated and looked to Hillary for help, but she had to do it on her own.
“We went to…to store…an we…ehhhh…we…how to say…we…wear clothes…”
“We went shopping,” Hillary whispered to Harriett.
“…an we meet Jase…and…drink?”
“You took this child to a bar??”
“She’s a grown woman, mama.”
“I don’t want you corrupting her!”
“It’s not like we got her drunk! She barely had two sips.”
“If you want to live like the devil, you go ahead, but don’t drag her with you.”