Gladys’s funeral was peaceful, but sad. Ursula tried to keep a straight face the entire time, but she eventually let her emotions spill out. Not surprisingly, Paul didn’t show up. I wondered how he would be able to live with himself until Ursula told me he had checked into rehab earlier that week. Maybe Ms. Gladys’s wish for her son would come true after all.
I was a huge wreck. I knew that her health had been iffy for some time now, but just the fact that she’d died so soon after I arrived…. and the fact that we were just beginning to bond…. it really bothered me.
Going back to the house after the funeral felt odd. I still wanted to know how our story could’ve turned out. I wanted to know how she would’ve greeted me in the mornings now that she liked me, and I wished I could’ve talked to her more about her life. It all left me so confused.
I began to pack my bags right after the funeral. There was a nearby motel that I could stay at until I found another job. I’d texted my mother to let her know how everything was going and how I was doing. She seemed to have sympathy for me, but she was largely unconcerned. For all I knew, she probably thought this was going to push me in the right direction. Maybe she was right, but I wanted my friend back. Ursula came into my room suddenly, interrupting my thoughts. Her face was still tear stained, and I knew it had been hard for her to break down like that.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I found a motel to stay at for a little while,” I replied. “It’s nothing fancy, but it’ll be enough until I can find a new place to stay and another job.”
She stood by the door awkwardly.
“Well, I was thinking you could stay here a little while longer… if you wanted,” she began. “I know it might be a little… unsettling… since my mother just passed away in the other room. But the rent and utilities wouldn’t be too much.”
My heart leapt at the news. Yes, it would be very emotional to replay the moment I found Ms. Gladys’s body every time I walked past her room. But I felt like this place had become my home, and I could never express my gratitude enough. We discussed rent and when it would be due. It was oddly inexpensive considering it was such a nice house, but that’s when she told me I’d be getting a new roommate pretty soon. Once everything was discussed, she said her goodbyes and gave me a nice hug.
“Thanks for taking care of my mother better than we ever could’ve,” I heard her mumble. It was barely audible, but I heard it.
I used the little money that I could spare to buy a new computer. It was old and clunky, but it worked fine for me. I needed to get a job as soon as possible, so I finally broke down and contacted the school. Because of my lack of actual experience working at a school, I had to start from the very bottom as a Playground Monitor, not like I minded. I was excited to finally be working with children. I also did some rearranging and moved my room into Ms. Gladys’s. It felt like it was a weird thing to do, for sure, but I got used to it.
I was so busy getting my new life together that I forgot about the new roommate that was moving in. The timing was bad considering it was one day before I started my job at the school. I was nervous and anxious. I’d spent all day in front of the mirror practicing what I’d say to the kids and how I could sound both nice and authoritative all at once.
When my roommate walked into the house, I felt unprepared. On top of the shock I’d acquired from living with someone else, this someone else happened to also be male! So many things almost tumbled out of my mouth. I didn’t know much about Appaloosa Plains, but if it was anything like where I grew up, no one would appreciate seeing two unmarried people living under the same roof. I didn’t want my reputation to be tarnished, and I was about to call Ursula and tell her as much. Then he opened his mouth.
“Lucy! I’m hoooome!” he yelled. He began to chuckle, and it was his laugh that might’ve put me at ease a little bit. He seemed warm and friendly enough, maybe a little awkward with the way he said things. But everything I was about to say that would’ve started us out on the wrong foot stayed in my head. I laughed a little bit with him.
“While we are fellow redheads, my name is actually Junie. Junie Kay,” I said while extending a hand to him.
As he shook my hand, I felt like I’d made a new friend even though we were just strangers. We spent the rest of the day chatting. I felt like I was telling him my life story, but I heard his first. He had come in from a place called Riverview to play music. Although Appaloosa Plains was no Bridgeport, it had a country music scene that was good enough. I retold my same old story about James and Mama and this time I included Gladys without crying much. He looked at me sympathetically and listened to me patiently. This guy made me feel like what I said was important, and I wasn’t just some naive, small town girl.
We couldn’t talk forever, although we certainly pushed it. I let the time slip away, and before I knew it night had fallen. I didn’t want to be late for my new job the next day, so I told him there was leftover dinner in the fridge then I went to my room to catch some Z’s. Before I did, though, I couldn’t help but wear a funny smile on my face. This guy was cute, and I knew I had developed a crush too quickly. Still, I couldn’t help but imagine. I texted my mama about it, and she took it as a sign that I was getting over James.
The next morning I woke up super early. I was as nervous as a sinner on the front pew. After I got ready I still was a bundle of nerves so I cooked myself breakfast and ate, hoping that warm taste of the toast would put me at ease. Eventually, I heard a honk outside and I knew that the carpool was going to give me my first interaction with a coworker. While the ride was nice and smooth, the driver didn’t say much at all and I gave up trying to start a conversation soon after I started. I hoped that all my practice in the mirror hadn’t been in vain.
I felt a little less anxious as we approached the school. My first shift started at eight and I got to leave at two. Every day, it was like this. It was my job to watch the children and make sure they didn’t get hurt, talk to strangers, bully one another, etc. I also had to clean up the playground after the classes went inside. Nothing was how I expected. The children were often loud and rowdy with the exception of a few. I knew it was because they were young and energetic, but I didn’t expect to barely be able to keep up with them. I really had to use my voice to make sure I was heard and taken seriously. My coworkers were also challenging. It was hard to converse with them about things like the weather or the children. Instead they wanted to gossip about everyone and talk badly about the kids.
I was always relieved whenever work was over. I was working harder than everyone else so that I could get promoted. I wanted to be around people who loved children and created a helpful environment. Mama kept in touch every now and again and Ursula would text often from her home, but Elisha is the one who helped me keep my sanity. Whether he played beautiful music on his guitar or he simply found a way for us to have fun, it made me feel good.
I’m not sure how it happened exactly. I think I just liked the way he listened to me and made me feel important in that way. Then he started drowning me in compliments and spending time with me. He said he liked and appreciated my cooking and he liked my hair. Then he said I was his best friend.
It didn’t take him too much longer after that, though, to give me a kiss. It was magical and beautiful. The hopeless romantic in me wanted more, but the good girl in me knew to be cautious and to take things slow. Regardless, I knew he was taking this- and me- seriously. He asked me if I would be his girlfriend and other half. I said yes.