14. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Jan 27
TIM LET A FEW DAYS go by before he called Mandy to suggest they meet at Russel-Berries for a cup of tea after work. Mandy wrote Meeting Tim after work!!!!!!! on her calendar (as if she would forget!) and spent the rest of the afternoon planning clever things to say. But when she saw his wide, eager smile, she knew there’d be no need to rely on corny devices.
He asked her how her day was, and she told him that Mr. Perry had been in a meeting so she hadn’t seen him, and that her co-workers had made fun of her shoes. “So the heels are a little high, so what.”
“Yeah, so what.”
The same waitress who had seated them last time greeted them, introduced herself as Pauline, and escorted them to a table.
“How was your day?” Mandy asked once they were seated.
“I’m preparing work for kids to do during spring break,” he said, and when she grimaced, he said, “I know, I always hated teachers who gave you homework during vacation. I wish I could go easy on them, but if I let them take a whole week off, they’ll fall behind, and won’t get everything covered, and they won’t be ready for next semester.” He paused when Pauline appeared with their tea, and when she left again, he went on, “The seniors need to be really ready to take their SATs.” He emptied two containers of cream, then three packs of sugar.
“Have some tea with your cream and sugar and hot water,” Mandy teased.
“What? Oh.” He chuckled. “I like it sweet.”
“So we start our plan this week, right?”
“Right. Operation Jealous Boyfriend.”
The first time it was so awkward for both of them that he didn’t call again for two days. But soon they fell into a rhythm, and he enjoyed hearing her sexy, affectionate voice over the phone: “Oh, honey, yes, tonight would be great!” she said when he called and told her he’d had a flat tire on the way to work and missed first class. “Are you kidding? I loved it! I’m wearing it right now!” she gushed when he told her he’d had to send three kids to the principal’s office in one day. And when he said that Simon had given him a tie that looked like a fish for his birthday, she giggled and said, “Baby, I love when you talk like that!”
“Our brilliant scheme worked,” she said, raising her mug just a week later. “He leaves me alone now.”
Tim raised his too, and they clinked. “It was fun.”
“It was,” she agreed. But watching him fiddle with the little empty cream containers, stacking one inside the other, she knew he was not savoring the success of their scheme—he was wishing the restaurant would buy cream in biodegradable cartons instead of plastic that would take up space in the landfill for the next thousand years. Her gaze went back to the face that was becoming so familiar to her, and she reviewed all the details he’d shared of his past: born and raised in Michigan, he and his family moved to Massachusetts after GM closed the auto plant that had employed three generations of Jenkins men. He was passionate about politics, had participated vigorously in the efforts to keep Reagan out of the White House, and a few years earlier had joined 200,000 people in New York City to protest the global nuclear arms race spurred by the accident at Three Mile Island. Also, he had once met Abbie Hoffman waiting in line at a deli in Brookline, but was too awed to say anything except Wow, hi.
“I wish we could solve your work problems that easily,” she said. For the past several weeks she’d listened to him complain that his teaching position wasn’t fulfilling, and she admired his dream to revolutionize the education system in America, starting with his town. “I wish your students were more interested.”
“The problem isn’t the students, it’s the curriculum. And the teachers. They have no imagination, no initiative. They’re just lazy. They have to know that the texts are outdated, but to find material that’s more relevant, no, that’s too much work. God forbid we should challenge the status quo. It’s worked so well for the past century.”
She said, “That stinks,” and then cringed at how immature she sounded, how dismissive. She’d been a solid B student, excelling only in home ec, and had paid as little attention as possible to subjects like history, which was Tim’s passion. Now she wished she’d understood the importance of knowing how events in the past continually shape the present. One evening Tim had spoken at length about America’s involvement in the Vietnam war, and she’d been shocked to learn about the role President Kennedy played in the assassination of the president of South Vietnam. He’s so smart, she thought, dismayed. He must think I’m an idiot.
She wondered if that was why he hadn’t actually asked her out yet. They’d been meeting at Russel Berries two or three times a week, and all they did was talk. With his reddish hair, pudgy physique, and thick glasses, he wasn’t the type of guy she’d stop and stare at if she saw him on the street (she admitted only to herself, and with no small amount of shame), but the more she knew him, the more she liked him, and she was more and more eager for the relationship to move to the next level. But how to reel him in? Her meager strategy, which involved touching his arm a lot, maintaining steady eye contact, and praising his ambitions, was meeting with limited success. Lying in bed, awake for hours, she agonized that she just wasn’t smart enough.
Across town Tim, who had persuaded his roommate Stan to walk by Russel-Berries one evening to look in and check out Mandy, said, “Well?”
“Well what did you think of her?”
“Stan, Jesus, come on.”
Stan didn’t even look up from that evening’s episode of Star Trek. “She’s hot.”
“I know she’s hot. But do you think—”
“Way out of your league, man. Sorry.”
Tim dropped onto the couch and cracked open a beer. He’s probably right. But if I don’t ask, I’ll never know. I should just tell her I’m really attracted to her. Immediately, he pictured her response: She’d lower her eyes in dismay and sputter, Oh Tim, that’s so sweet, but…I really like you, but just as a friend…Then she’d pat his hand and say that he was a great guy and that any girl would be lucky to have him.
Shit. He guzzled; reconsidered—didn’t she laugh at all his jokes? Didn’t she always sound so happy on the phone when he called? And all the times he’d invited her to meet him at Russel-Berries, she’d never once said no.
In bed, his favorite fantasy was him visiting her at work and finding her being pawed by her boss. She’d be frightened, crying…half naked. He’d beat the crap out of Mr. Perry, that son of a bitch, and carry her out to his car. She’d kiss him gratefully. She’d be surprised at how strong he was, running her fingers along the bulge of muscle on his arm (no one could accuse him of lacking imagination—in real life the meat on his arms was strictly pizza induced.) She’d cling to him, her kisses becoming more passionate. His hand would travel up to her breasts and she’d moan…he’d moan…
He never got any farther than that, his hand not stroking her breast but coaxing his own orgasm. Afterwards, he’d lie there feeling like an idiot. Get real. He was so sure she was going to feed him that line about just being friends that he got annoyed with her and began to make up reasons to convince himself that she wasn’t that great. Just another girl too pretty for her own damn good.
LISBETH HOPPED over the fence with Jules, her heart pounding with excitement. They let themselves into Simon’s house, and Kevin was already there, seated at his drum set. She greeted him with a shy smile, then settled on the sofa next to Jules. All the while she couldn’t take her eyes off him, and every time he flashed his grin at her, she could hardly breathe. Everything thing about him was gorgeous: eyes, smile, chest, legs, skin. What would it be like, to have him hold her, to have his hands on her body? Tingles raced through her.
They finished at the usual time, twenty minutes before Grandfather was due home, and Kevin said, “Hey, does anyone feel like going out for a cup of coffee or something?”
Simon didn’t answer, because he obviously had to be there when Grandfather returned. Eddie said his mom was already on her way to pick him up. Jules said she didn’t drink coffee.
“I’ll go,” Lisbeth said.
Jules regarded her doubtfully. “It’s kind of late, isn’t it? What should I tell Mom?”
“Just a quick cup of coffee,” Kevin said. He was intent on taking apart his set and gathering up the pieces.
“I’ll help you,” Lisbeth offered promptly. To Jules she said, “I’ll be home soon.”
“I’ll take good care of her,” Kevin said.
"I’ll be home soon,” Lisbeth repeated. She could feel Jules’ eyes on her as she grabbed the snare drum and stand and followed Kevin out.
“Thanks,” he said. “My dad lets me borrow his van. Have drum, will travel.” He put everything in, then turned to face her. “Hi.”
“Probably the only place still open is McDonald’s. But they have coffee. Is that okay?”
She nodded, terror and excitement swirling through her. He opened the door on her side, and she climbed in. Second later, he got in. When he started up the engine, “Just You ‘N’ Me” by Chicago came on.
“Shit!” he said, reaching out and ejecting the tape. “That crappy song.”
“Chicago is great,” she said. “My favorite on this album is ‘Jenny.’ He wrote it for his dog.”
“I know. I shouldn’t have said that song was crappy, I fucking love this album.” He laughed too. “I was trying to be the tough guy who hates ballads.”
Lisbeth laughed too, and pushed the tape back in. As they listened, they talked about what an underrated bassist Peter Cetera was, and talked about the day they heard that the guitarist Terry Kath died, speculating what his solo album would have been like.
Soon Kevin pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot. Lisbeth slipped out of the van and shivered; the night air was frigid. Just a year ago she would have worried about catching a cold that would turn into a flu. Of course, a year ago she woud not have been out, she would have been home sitting on the sofa watching television. A year ago she would not be standing at the counter of a McDonald’s with an incredibly sexy boy, talking about music, planning to join a rock band, ordering coffee. For the first time ever, she felt like a normal girl who had her whole life ahead of her.
“I like Tim,” Jules said to Simon. “He’s the complete opposite of Brent. So that’s good. But I don’t think this is going to, like, turn into anything. Do you?”
“Maybe. They seem to meet up a lot after work.”
Jules frowned. “They talk on the phone a lot, too. And did you know that Kevin and Lisbeth have gone out a few times?”
“Yeah. Why does it bother you?”
“Because Lissie is too young for him. She’s so innocent, and he’s so…he just seems so much older. You should see the two of them at school, walking down the hall, holding hands. Everyone is talking about it.”
“I think it’s great.” Right away Simon knew it was the wrong thing to say. Why is she so against people dating? Sometimes it felt like turning their friendship into a romance would be impossible. Not that he didn’t have a plan, he did: she would be visiting one evening (Grandfather was out, at a meeting or something) and she’d say something about being jealous that Mandy and Lisbeth had boyfriends. He would say You don’t have to be jealous. Not when I’m here. He’d stroke her hair (for once not in a ponytail) and she’d be looking up at him (in the fantasy he was much taller, not the exact same height as her) and realization would slowly dawn on her. She’d murmur his name in a voice filled with wonder. He would silence her with a single, perfect kiss His lips would move down her neck to her shoulder, and she’d whimper with delight. Etcetera. In order to set the stage for this scenario, he’d been more attentive to her than usual. He called her a couple of times a day, paid special attention to everything she said, and smiled at her a lot; not a goofy grin (he hoped)—but a sexy, cool expression, like Fonzie on Happy Days.
“Simon, will you please stop staring at me?” she snapped. It was February vacation, and they were in his living room checking out a new show starring weatherman-turned-comedian David Letterman.
“What? I’m not…”
“You are too. This guy’s a riot and you haven’t even laughed once.” She shook her head. “Everyone is acting so weird lately. It’s like everyone is on drugs.”
“I guess we’re all, you know, growing up.”
“Not me,” she said. “I’m exactly the same. And I liked things the way they were. We have plenty of time, we’re just kids. What’s the freaking rush? Mom and Dad got married when they were young and look what happened to them.”
“Let’s make tea and go up to my room.” Simon’s heart started to pound. This is it! She’s going to cry and she’s going to need me to comfort her!
They went into the kitchen, and while she put the kettle to boil, he untucked his tee shirt, hoping to conceal his sudden, urgent erection. “Want something to eat?” he asked. “Jiffy pop or something?”
“No, thanks, Simon.” The kettle began to squeal, so she shut off the burner; poured water into mugs and pulled out the bags before the tea got too strong, then spooned in sugar. Simon hovered, growing more and more nervous.
“All set.” She handed him his mug. They went up the stairs and he closed the door. She sat on the bed. “Everyone is going to fall in love and get married and move out and I’ll be alone.”
He sat next to her. “You’ll never be alone.” Okay, steady…do it…He moved closer. “Besides, before you know it, you’ll be in love too.”
“You’re pretty and funny and brilliant…a guy would be crazy not to…”
“Simon,” she interrupted, unnerved by his proximity. “What are you getting at?”
“Nothing.” He withdrew; blew on his tea. He could feel her glare. “Too hot to drink.”
“Good old Simon,” she said affectionately, reaching out and tousling his hair exactly the way you would the head of a floppy mutt. “How do you put up with me?”
“I don’t know,” he answered frankly. Her caress was like ice on his erection. Still, he inched closed, until his thigh pressed against hers. He moved to put an arm around her, but at the same time she started to stand, and he wound up smacking her shoulder. “Oops. Sorry.” He gave up and watched her head for the door.
“I’m going to read every book that won a Pulitzer, so I better go home and start now.”
“Okay.” He listened to her footsteps bound down the stairs and out the door.