14. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Jul 28, 2019
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. “I’m going to be in town,” he fibbed. Mandy wrote Meeting Tim after work!!!!!!! on her calendar (as if she were likely to forget!) and spent the rest of the afternoon planning clever things to say. But when she saw his wide, eager grin, 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.”
Pauline, the waitress, greeted them 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 to do 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 smiled. “I like it sweet.”
“Did he kiss you goodnight?” Allie wanted to know.
“No, silly. But he kind of… he didn’t hug me, but he kind of put his hand on my arm, like this.” She demonstrated, recalling the connection.
“He really likes you.”
“I don’t know. He might just consider me a friend.”
Allie shook her head. “Trust me, he likes you. So what else.”
“Well…” Mandy plopped onto her bed. “We sort of… we were talking and we came up with this plan.”
“Well, we were thinking… I was telling him how creepy Mr. Perry is, and we were thinking that if Tim pretended to be my boyfriend, Mr. Perry wouldn’t be so… like, creepy or whatever.”
Allie nodded. “Uh huh.”
“So he said he’s going to start calling me at work, and pretend to be my boyfriend. Pretend to be the jealous type.”
“Whose idea was it?”
“To pretend that he was my boyfriend?”
“He really, like, likes you!”
“You really think so?”
Allie rolled her eyes. “Duh.”
The first time it was so awkward for both of them that he didn’t call again for four more days. But soon they fell into a rhythm, and he enjoyed hearing her sexy, affectionate voice: “Oh, honey, I’m sooooo glad you called—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!”
“He leaves me alone now,” she said, raising her cup. “To us!”
Tim raised his too, and they clinked. “Great job.”
“It was so much fun.” Watching him fiddle with the empty cream container, she knew exactly what was going through his mind: that he wished the restaurant would buy cream in biodegradable cartons instead of those little plastic things that would last in the landfill for the next three million centuries or longer. Her gaze stayed on the face that was becoming so familiar to her, and she reviewed all the details of his past that he’d shared—born and raised in Michigan, then his family moved to Massachusetts after GM closed the auto plant that had employed three generations of Jenkins men. Feeling comfortably wife-like, she loved listening to him describe his dream to revolutionize the education system in America, starting with his town. His teaching position wasn’t fulfilling, he complained. When she asked what was wrong with the kids, he said it wasn’t the kids, it was the teachers. Their lack of initiative was his biggest gripe. “They’re so lazy. They have to know that the texts are outdated, but to find material that’s more relevant, no, that’s too much work. And it’s change. And they don’t like change. God forbid we should change the curriculum. It’s worked so well for the past one hundred years.”
Her response, “That stinks,” was genuine, but at the same time she was thinking, When is he going to ask me out?
In the beginning, she liked the slow pace of the relationship because she was so inexperienced. She hadn’t had a boyfriend since the second grade, when Jeff Connelly gave her a ring he’d gotten from a gumball machine. She could still remember the way he presented to her, in his palm the clear acorn-shaped plastic container. She’d taken the ring out, put it on, and admired it, assuming she’d marry him as soon as they graduated from high school. When she was in the fifth grade she heard a rumor that Chris Jordan was going to invite her to a dance, but then he didn’t. And once George Snodgrass called her, started to ask her out, and then hung up when he couldn’t get the words out. Then there was Brent, which was based solely on his looks. Was I ever that immature? she wondered, shaking her head every time she thought about it. Tim wasn’t the type of guy she’d stop and stare at if she saw him on the street, but the more she knew him, the more she liked him, and she knew this was a more meaningful basis for a relationship. Her meager strategy, which involved touching his arm a lot, maintaining steady eye contact, and praising his ambitions, was meeting limited success. Lying in bed, awake for hours, she’d agonize over possible reasons for the delay. Maybe he thinks I’m too young for him. Maybe he’s got a girlfriend. Maybe he doesn’t like girls.
Across town Tim, who had persuaded his roommate Stan to be at Russel-Berries to 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 way out of your league.”
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 his favorite fantasy, he’d visit her at work, and find 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 ruby-tipped 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 their breast (now they were in his car) 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.
Allie studied Mandy’s smile and faint blush whenever Tim’s name came up, and she understood that Mandy was falling for him big time. Despite her age, Allie held a higher rank than Mandy in the war between the sexes. Where Mandy was modest and innocent, Allie was used to being loved and admired, and therefore always expected it. If a boy failed to react to her immediately, she knew how to attract his attention—even if she didn’t plan to do anything with it, even if it earned her an unpleasant title around school. She didn’t mean to be manipulative; it was just that nothing appealed to her more than a challenge. Any new boy who caught her eye was subject to her transitory charm; then dismissed as if he were a purchase she’d made by mistake.
She was amused by the way Mandy talked about Tim a lot, bringing him to conversation, even offering his help when Allie was having trouble with her history class. “I’ll drive you to his apartment,” she said, “or we can invite him over here.”
“Thanks, I’m all set,” Allie laughed.
Jules liked Tim and was glad that he and Mandy were friends. But Tim wasn’t anything like Brent, and Jules doubted that the relationship would go beyond meeting for tea a couple of times a week. So not worrying about Mandy left her with plenty of time to be mystified by Lisbeth… Lisbeth, who was suddenly brave enough to go to all the practices, both those at Simon’s house and Kevin’s house, and who looked so different these days. Pink and radiant. Had Allie been present at any of the practices, she would have delivered a prompt diagnosis: Lisbeth, like Mandy, had all the symptoms of being in love.
Of course Jules saw that there was an attraction between Lisbeth and Kevin. But love? No. They were just too different. Besides, Jules was still pulling for Simon.
Simon, however, was glad to watch the fireworks. Now that Kevin is in love with Lisbeth, Jules is mine again. His current fantasy featured her coming to him; hurt, vulnerable, desperate. (Simon didn’t care that it was desperation that drove her to him at first, not desire.) So he’d hold her and stroke her hair (for once not in a ponytail) and tell her not to cry. Pretty soon he’d be brushing his lips against her cheek. Her crying would stop and she’d look up at him (in the fantasy he was much taller, not the exact same height as her) and realization would slowly dawn on her tear-stained face. She’d murmur his name in a voice filled with wonder. He would silence her with a single, perfect kiss… but it wouldn’t be enough. He’d kiss her shoulder, and she’d whimper with delight. Etcetera.
In order to set the stage for this scenario, Simon was 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, to let him know that he was there if she needed him.
“Simon, will you please stop staring at me?” It was February vacation, and they were up late checking out a new show starring weatherman-turned-comedian David Letterman.
“What? I’m not… ”
“You are too. This guy’s a genius and you haven’t even laughed once. God.” She shook her head. “Everyone is acting so weird lately. It’s like everyone is on drugs!”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re treating me like… like how you’re treating me. Lisbeth and Kevin, they can’t take their eyes off each other, and Mandy is all swoony over Tim.”
“Oh my God, Simon.”
“Huh.” He sat back and thought about it. “I didn’t even know.”
“Boys are so oblivious!”
“Shhh, you’ll wake Grandfather.”
She sighed. “Everyone is changing. Except me. I’m the same.”
“Jules. No you’re not. We’re all, you know, growing up.”
“Not me,” she said. “I’m not.”
“Who was that on the phone, Lissie?” Jules, seated at the kitchen table, was making her way through a bag of Fritos.
“What did he want?”
“He wanted to ask me something.”
“About a song.”
“Well… I guess it wasn’t really about a song.”
Scowling, Jules mimicked, “I guess it wasn’t really about a song.”
“What wasn’t really about a song?” Mom asked, appearing in the doorway. Jules, slouched in her chair, obstructed entry into the kitchen, so Mom tapped her sneaker with her own slippered foot, and Jules sat up and pulled her legs in.
“Someone’s cranky,” Lisbeth said, negotiating her escape. “I have to go practice for a while.”
She left the room, and a moment later they heard music. Mom sensed tension. “You haven’t had an argument with Lisbeth, have you?”
“Lisbeth who.” Even Jules was startled by her childish tone. But she couldn’t help it. “I’m going to see Simon,” she announced, jumped up and went out, letting the door slam behind her.
“I think it’s what you said,” she greeted him.
“That everyone is growing up. I don’t like it. I liked things the way they were. We have plenty of time to grow up, we’re just kids. What’s the freaking rush?”
“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!
He followed her into the kitchen to boil water, and as soon as her back was turned, he untucked his tee shirt, hoping to conceal his sudden, urgent erection. “Want something to eat?” he heard himself ask.
“No, I just had Fritos.”
It’s going to happen! “We have fruit… crackers… cheese?”
“No, thanks, Simon.”
She came over to monitor the tea, pulling out the bags before the water got too dark, then spooning sugar into each mug. Her nearness made him sweat, and when he was pretty sure she wasn’t paying attention, he sneaked a peek at the front of her shirt, but as always, her breasts were basically shrouded in loose fabric.
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.” He saw she was on the verge of crying. Okay, steady… do it… He moved closer. “Besides, before you know it, you’ll be in love too.”
“You. In love. You’re pretty and funny and brilliant… a guy would be crazy not to… ”
“Simon,” she snapped, unnerved by his proximity. “What are you getting at?”
“Nothing.” He withdrew; blew on his tea. He could feel Jules’ 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 started to stand, and he wound up smacking her in shoulder.
“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.
Lisbeth heard Jules come in, but she pretended to be napping so she wouldn’t have to face her. Jules’ advice earlier in the week came back to her: It’s great that you go to the practices, Lissie, but this Kevin thing… I mean, he’s nice, but he’s not for you. Lisbeth, who had felt so much stronger and more confident lately, faltered: I can’t help it, I really like him. Jules said, You’re so much younger. He probably only thinks of you as a friend. Which was Lisbeth’s worst fear. She’d spent days trying to figure out Jules’ change of heart. She builds him up to me and tells me what a great guy he is, and then when I meet him and I find out what a great guy he is, she tells me not to like him.
She rolled over on her back. What her sisters didn’t know was that she’d fallen in love many times. They never suspected any of her crushes because she kept them to herself. In fact, she couldn’t recall a single time when she didn’t like someone. When she was in the ninth grade, there was a boy named Malcolm Everett that she would gladly have died for. He was an unlikely idol: short and mild mannered, who’d said “Excuse me,” once when he bumped into her. She loved him for the whole spring semester. The next year it was William Langley. He was the smartest boy in her algebra class, and the other kids used to pester him for answers. One day he snapped, “Leave me alone! Do your own work! Like… ” his eyes traveled the room in search of someone who had never asked for his help, and located her. “Like Lisbeth!” At the time she’d been mortified because they all turned and glared at her. But by the end of the day she couldn’t stop thinking how smart and sweet he was. After he moved to another town it was Mr. Wallace, the social studies teacher who understood her shyness and never ever called on her. She had him for two years and loved him the whole time. There were others too, that didn’t last long. And then she’d met Kevin.
He was nothing like everyone had said. He wasn’t wild at all—he was gentle and understanding, and treated her like a fragile doll. His endless compliments made her feel so much better about herself. Being told by her sisters that she was beautiful was totally different than being told by Kevin. Your looks are killer. That’s what he’d said, those were his exact words. He’d also been talking to her about her shyness. There’s no point in worrying about what other people think about you, because if they’re negative people, you won’t be able to make them like you, no matter what. And if they’re your friends, they’ll love you no matter what. It was kind of like what Jules had been telling her for years, but for some reason it carried more weight when Kevin said it. And her new courage had culminated in the triumph of delivering an oral report a few days earlier. She hadn’t even been nervous!
So now, thinking about Jules’ anger, she was mystified. I know she wants me to be stronger. And he’s helping me.
It made no sense.