Chapter 2 1949 - Henry and Juliette

The months since the accident had been hard on Henry. He withdrew into his shell even more, and stopped socializing at the Stomping Grounds. His day-to-day existence returned to getting up at dawn, off to work, back to home, doing a little yard work, listening to the radio, off to bed. His only public outlet was Saturday, when he would do some shopping at the local grocery. He missed Miriam terribly, and could barely think of anything else.

One Saturday in June, while doing his weekly shopping chore, he noticed Juliette Arden, a new young female clerk at the store. Once again, he was sure this was the woman of his dreams, but he stopped himself, knowing how his past two efforts had failed so badly. Still, he couldn’t deny he was attracted to her.

Juliette had a fresh face, long brown hair, a cute turned up nose and eyes that twinkled. She greeted every customer with a smile, and was quick to listen to his or her stories and troubles. She seemed wise beyond her seventeen years.

Henry learned that Juliette was a recent transplant to California. Her parents had relocated from Kansas, where her father had worked for a local newspaper. Juliette’s younger brother, Arthur, was fourteen, and although he was a good kid, he was also prone to mischief.

Juliette had heard of Henry through the grapevine, about the accident that had killed Miriam, but had never met him. When Henry stood in her line at the checkout, she was unaware of who he was. As he moved toward the counter, a slight smile graced his lips, the first in months.

“Hi, you new here?” Henry asked.

“I’ve been working here a couple of weeks,” Juliette replied. “My family just moved here from Kansas. I’m Juliette. And you?”

“I’m Henry,” he stammered, his innate shyness beginning to take over. “I work over at the chicken hatchery.”

“I’ve heard your name around,” she said, and Henry brightened up. “Some say you used to played in a band at the Stomping Grounds.”

“Yeah, a few months ago, before the accident. But I broke my arm, and never went back even after it healed,” he recalled sadly.

“I’m so sorry. I heard about the accident and the poor girl who was killed. Dr. Jonas and wife shop here and they are still in mourning.”

Henry hung his head, and Juliette quickly added “But they don’t blame you, they know that that Naylor fellow was drunk, and shouldn’t have been behind the wheel. It’s a shame he didn’t get more jail time. The judge let him off easy.”

“Seeing him around town makes my blood boil, and I don’t even go into the Stomping Grounds anymore because he still hangs out there,” added Henry.

The conversation lapsed into an uncomfortable silence while she finished checking out his groceries, and when the final total was paid and Henry began gathering up his bags, she told him to come back and see her again, she enjoyed talking to him.

That brief encounter put a little extra spring into Henry’s step. He seemed to have new demeanor that had been months in suppression. Suddenly, Henry felt as if the world existed for him again, and there was possibly a brighter future ahead. For the third time, Henry was in love.

Juliette was not so easily smitten. She enjoyed her conversation with Henry, but thought him a little morose. Still, as the week passed, her thoughts often turned to that conversation, and how it had stared off so happily, but turned dark. She hoped their next encounter would be a little more positive.

Her day off was Wednesday, and she decided to see if Henry might like some company at the chicken hatchery. At lunchtime, she stopped by, to see if he might be taking a break. She wasn’t quite prepared for the stench, and with the noise of the conveyors carrying the eggs for inspection; Henry didn’t notice it when she said, “How can you stand it?”

Henry looked up, surprised. “Oh, sorry, I didn’t hear you,” Henry said as he switched off the equipment.

“I said, how can you stand it? The smell, I mean,” as she wrinkled her nose.

“You get used to it, I ‘spose,” he replied. “I’ve worked here a long time, so I don’t really notice it anymore.”

“I don’t think I could ever get used to that!” she said. “It’s too overwhelming.”

As a rat scurried between the two of them, Juliette shrieked and Henry quickly pulled his .22 from his back pocket and shot it.

“My Hero!” Juliette laughed, “That took me by surprise. It’s not like it’s the first rat I’ve ever seen. My brother Arthur once found a nest of them in the basement back in Kansas, and let one loose in my room. Now there was a shock!”

“Your brother sounds like a little brat,” declared Henry.

“He’s OK, he’s only fourteen and likes to make a bit of trouble when he thinks it can get me riled. I guess that’s what little brothers are for.”

“Is it just the two of you?” Henry asked.

“Well, plus my mom and dad, of course,” she giggled.

“I’ve got eight brothers and sisters, but I’m second to oldest, and my youngest brothers are twins, so that made double trouble,” Henry replied back.

“I miss, ‘em, though,” as he turned again into a silent reverie.

After a few moments, Juliette interrupted, “Don’t they live around here?”

“No,” he replied. “They live in North Dakota. But they are coming out to live here in a few months, except for my brother Ed, who’s going to take over the family farm.”

“Well, I’m sure it will be nice to all be together again.”

“I hope my dad will be able to find a good job,” he mused. “He’s done nothing but farming all his life, although he does have good handyman skills.”

“This town could use a good handyman, perhaps that will suit him,” she offered.

“My parents have had it hard, if it wasn’t for all the kids, my dad might have had to go to war. Lucky for us, he didn’t have to,” Henry thankfully replied.

“My father was the sole breadwinner in the family, so he also didn’t have to serve, though he would have been willing to do so, if asked,” she added.

“The smell is really getting to me,” she continued. “Maybe we can step outside?”

“Outside is not much better, but if you’d like, we can hop in the car and head into town for a bite to eat. If I’m not being too forward?” Henry asked.

“That sounds nice, let’s go!”

As they left for the car, Henry noticed that he did not smell all that great, and Juliette, while not trying to notice herself, couldn’t help wrinkling her nose.

“Oh, I forgot about how the smell clings to the clothes. Maybe now’s not a good time to head into town. I’d really need to clean up a bit first.”

“Perhaps we can do something this weekend?” she asked.

“You work on Saturday, don’t you?” Henry asked her.

“Yes, but I’m off at four. Dinner? Would you like to eat at our house? That is, if you don’t think my brother will be a problem.”

“I think that will be nice,” he said. “May I call in the next couple of evenings?”

“Yes, please do. I’m at 6823. Or just ask Gladys the operator for the Arden house. She can ring us up.”

“OK, will do.”

As Juliette drove off, Henry watched after her, not quite believing all that was happening. Could she be the one?