• robinstratton23

16. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jan 28


AFTER JULES' GRADUATION ceremony, a crowd that included Dad who’d flown in for the weekend, collected at the Aprils’ home for a cookout.


Grandfather looked forlorn, so Lisbeth went to stand next to him. It had been a month since he’d come home unexpectedly one Wednesday to discover a raucous quartet rocking his den: “So this is what goes on while I’m gone!!” What a scene, with Simon almost dropping his guitar and Jules springing from the couch in alarm. Grandfather calmed down when he saw that Lisbeth was in on it, and the next day Simon told them that after they’d all cleared out, Grandfather admitted that he’d stood outside the den for several minutes listening to them play before going in, and said that they didn’t sound half bad.


Lisbeth patted his arm. “He’ll be home a lot.”


“I know, but it won’t be the same.” Grandfather cleared his throat and said, “Simon, there’s still time to change your major from music to medicine. Like Eddie. Now that’s a career.”


No one answered. Last Wednesday Eddie had announced that as soon as the summer was over, he’d no longer be part of the band. Having effortlessly been accepted into Harvard, he said he’d be too busy to come home very often. They were disappointed. He added a lot to the band, not just musically, but with interesting ideas about arrangements. He didn’t have the greatest sense of humor, but he enjoyed their antics, and had developed an easy rapport with Jules that culminated in heady philosophical discussions, often challenging Lisbeth about her belief in a personal God Who heard her prayers, as opposed to the possibility that life was completely unsupervised and random.


“Real tempting,” Simon responded after a minute.


Kevin, who would be attending the same school of music as Simon, joked, “Wouldn’t want him to operate on me!”


Lisbeth joined in the laughter, but she wasn’t really amused. In two months, she was going to lose her boyfriend and her favorite sister. She would miss Jules, of course, but not like she was going to miss Kevin. What if he finds another girlfriend? What if he decides I’m just a kid? He frequently told her he was “crazy” for her, but that wasn’t the same as the “L” word. Plus, he was so gentle with her that sometimes she wondered if he wasn’t attracted to her. I’m so skinny, she’d think, frowning at her reflection in the mirror as she stepped out of the shower. My breasts are so small! Allie’s are bigger, and she’s younger. Does that bother him? What if he finds some voluptuous college girl and forgets all about me?


Across town, nights found Kevin lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, his sheets twisted and damp. He knew Lisbeth was waiting for him to say I love you first. But it wasn’t that simple. He’d never been in love before, and so he didn’t know what it was. He recognized his early feelings toward her as infatuation, pure and simple. Which made no sense, since he’d never been attracted to her type before. All his girlfriends had been tough, like him. Smoked and drank and wore black fingernail polish. His feelings for Lisbeth were just so different. Intense and completely overwhelming; she was all he thought about. But love? He couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that he didn’t want to hurt her. He didn’t want to say he loved her and then discover he didn’t. He’d become dependent on her, that was for sure. The way she always listened to him, no matter what he was talking about…and she really listened, too—he could tell by her responses. There was something so cool about that. Plus the way she smelled. Man, yeah.


The band, now a year old, had begun playing out. Nothing major—several parties and cookouts hosted by Grandfather’s friends—but enough to give them exposure and experience performing before an audience. At first Lisbeth was terrified. They nearly had to cancel their first gig when she threatened to back out. But Simon said if she went ahead with it, he’d buy her that slick Yamaha DX7 she’d been drooling over, and she got over her fear pretty fast. Before long she learned to concentrate on her playing and pretend it was just another rehearsal.


All the vocals fell to Simon, whose voice hadn’t developed into anything but passable yet, but he’d been taking singing lessons, and already they noticed a big improvement. A lot of thought went into the name of the band, until Jules suggested “Chicken Slacks,” making them all laugh. Several months earlier they’d spent an hour learning “Twistin’ the Night Away” by Sam Cooke. The chord progressions were a cinch, but there was one lyric they didn’t understand, the line that went He’s dancing with the chicken slacks. What the heck were chicken slacks? They listened to the song over and over, shaking their heads. It was Lisbeth who finally identified the line as He’s dancing with the chick in slacks. “And let’s spell it a sorta punk way, S-L-A-X,” Kevin had suggested.


Jules’ summer job was in a vitamin factory for minimum wage. Simon was outraged. The thought of Jules—brilliant, amazing Jules!—working alongside the most ordinary people in the world felt so wrong.


“It won’t be for forever, you know,” Jules told him, exasperated but flattered.


He sighed; wished she was rich like him so she wouldn’t have to work, and thought about all the horror stories of some of his favorite musicians who’d had to compromise their creativity in order to earn a decent living.


At the same time, she felt sorry for him: he’d never enjoy the satisfaction derived from earning money the hard way. He would work, of course, as a musician, but it wouldn’t be the same as doing a disagreeable task day in and day out while remaining true to your dream. Jules thought about how down and out some of her favorite writers had been before they sold their breakout novel and couldn’t suppress a dauntless grin.


Her job was to stuff cotton into bottles of vitamins. In her whole life, she’d never questioned its presence, assuming it somehow preserved freshness. Every morning she’d pull it out, take a vitamin, then put it back in. But now that stuffing cotton was her occupation, she took a deep interest in it, and learned that manufacturers put it there to prevent breakage during shipping. So sometimes she’d try to see how much she could stuff in, and once, when her supervisor Gretch was out, she got a round of applause for fitting almost two feet into a jar of Cs.


A couple dozen women worked with her. The crotchety supervisors who hung out in formidable groups and hated all the other workers had been coming in five mornings a week for 25 or 30 years. There was a population of almost middle-aged women who’d gotten married too early to develop any skills, who had a couple of kids, and complained constantly about their husbands. Then there were the high school girls who giggled and rolled their eyes and talked about boys and clothes. They all smoked, and sometimes the air was so thick with it that Jules’ eyes stung.


The most popular pastime was to make fun of any woman who wasn’t there; if she’d called in sick or had gone to the lobby to use the pay phone or was in the ladies room. Even if she was only gone five minutes, it was enough time for the others to deliver some cutting remarks. Upon her return, the others instantly switched over to a warm, friendly demeaner that belied the fact that they’d just called her too fat, a possible lesbian, or the one to blame for her husband’s affair. Jules was horrified and fascinated at the same time, and could only imagine what they said about her when she stepped away.


Each woman had a sky-blue smock, and each smock had a name embroidered on it with navy blue thread. Gretch’s smock said Gretch and Lucille’s smock said Lucille and Barb’s smock said Barb. But Jules’ smock said Kimmie. Kimmie, she was told, had left in the spring, but no one said why. Jules spent hours wondering—had she moved? Gotten pregnant? Been fired for having an affair with Mr. Howard, the boss? Got lung cancer from all the smoke? Jules pictured her being young and too smart to be there. Maybe she left because the whole scene appalled her. Maybe she confronted them all and they got her fired.


Slung in a chair watching television, Simon missed her during the long days of summer when they used to be together all the time. And when we go to college, we won’t see each other at all. “Why don’t you go out. get some fresh air,” Grandfather would suggest. But Simon would just pretend to be mesmerized by MTV and stare at the clock. Four more hours ’til she comes home…three more hours…two more hours…


Lisbeth was also fretting about the future. As she watched Kevin spread out a blanket for their picnic, she thought, This is it. He’s going to suggest we see other people while he’s in college.

They ate the tuna sandwiches she’d made and talked about the band. It was only while Lisbeth was packing up the basket that Kevin said, “Summer’s going by fast, huh?” He stretched out on his side and gazed at her. She fanned her face with her hand. It was a relentlessly hot day, high noon.


“Too fast.” She stretched out next to him, on her stomach, pensive and unhappy. “I’m going to miss you.”


“I’ll come home most weekends. Or you’ll visit me at school.”


“How? I don’t have my license.”


“I’ll come get you on Friday and bring you back on Sunday.”


“But…where would I…sleep?”


Kevin tried to make his voice casual. “With me. In my dorm room.”


“Oh.”


“We don’t have to…you know, have sex. We can just cuddle.”


“Really?”


He didn’t answer as he rolled over on his back and shut his eyes.


Lisbeth admired his long, dark curls. Then she looked down to his chest. She’d fantasized for hours about putting her cheek against it, having the coarse hair tickle her nose while she listened to his heart beat. She’d seen him without a shirt a few times over the summer, but she’d never touched him. Checking to make sure his eyes were still shut, she continued her gaze downward. She wondered how big he was. The thought of touching it excited her, especially the thought of kissing it… but the thought of it inside her, wouldn’t that hurt? She had no idea how big her vagina was, but surely it wasn’t bigger than a tampon, was it? How could a full-grown man like Kevin fit in without tearing her apart?


“Don’t you want to?” he asked. His eyes were open, and he was watching her watch him.


“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you care about me?”


“Of course.”


“You’re not attracted to me?”


“You know I am.”


“Well so…why?”


“I just…I just don’t think I’m ready.”


“Well, when do you think you will be? Ready, I mean. Don’t forget, I’ll be away at school, so…who knows how long it’ll be before we see each other…”


“But you just said you’d be home most weekends…”


“Well, I mean, I don’t know for sure if I can do that or not.”


Panic seized her. I’m going to lose him! She thought about all the girls he’d probably been with, how effortlessly, how carelessly they must have given in to him; normal girls, who weren’t scared of everything. I promised God I’d be fearless… “Okay,” she said in a tiny voice.


He sat up. “Okay what?”


"Okay, let’s…do it.”


“Really? Are you sure?”


She nodded.


He reached out and pulled her close; kissed her eagerly. “I’ll be so gentle,” he murmured. “I promise.”



Allie scowled at her drawing. It stunk. Everything she’d drawn all summer stunk. Stunk stunk stunk. Everything wound up in the trash. “I can’t draw anymore,” she said to the empty house.


All summer long the scene with Billy Nugent kept coming back to her; his words repeating in her mind over and over until her stomach ached with humiliation. Sometimes tears of rage came, and she’d think indignantly, He had no right! Just as often, her face went hot with shame, and she knew every word was true. She wondered how many people he’d told. She knew he hung around with some of her old boyfriends, but since she’d dated almost every boy in school, that wasn’t surprising. And didn’t really date them, really…just hung out with them and did stuff with them—fooled around with them or whatever—until she got bored and wanted someone different. She hadn’t gone all the way with any of them, but she’d rounded most of the bases, and had established a rep. She was glad Lisbeth was at the high school and didn’t know.


It had been a lonely summer. She had her circle of girlfriends at school, but she didn’t like them enough to hang out with them except in the hallway during classes. With Mandy, Jules and Mom working every day, and Lisbeth off visiting Kevin at the music store where he worked, there was never anyone around. Simon came over sometimes and took her shopping or to lunch, but he was basically mourning Jules, and sometimes Allie felt annoyed with him and couldn’t wait for him to leave.


Then she’d sit by herself and think, He’s the only one who wants to be with you. No one else does. And why would they? You’re a spoiled, selfish brat! and spend the rest of the afternoon crying.


“It’s almost September,” she said, and still the empty house had no words of comfort to offer. She would have given up a year of her life to have one more month before school started.


Lisbeth didn’t know what she was most afraid of: that they’d have sex and he’d lose interest afterwards and leave her because she wasn’t good at it, or sexy enough with her flat chest, or big enough to accommodate him… or that she’d refuse to have sex with him and he’d lose interest and leave her and find someone who would. So those were the two likely scenarios: try to have sex and not be able to and lose him, or refuse to have sex and lose him.


Posted near the living room window, she watched his car pull into the driveway, her stomach clenched like a fist. As he parked and got out, she acknowledged the usual thrill she felt when she saw him; of ownership, of familiarity, even of desire. But the jangly nerves…! “I’m going out for a little while,” she said to Allie, who was sitting on the sofa watching All My Children.


“Okay,” Allie said, “have fun.”


Lisbeth’s reply, “You, too,” was mechanical. She stepped onto the porch as Kevin circled around the car to have her door open by the time she made her way down the steps, down the walkway, to the driveway.


“Hi,” he said in a voice that was husky and happy; eyeing her with an interest so intense she couldn’t face him.


She let him kiss her, not on the head as he sometimes did in greeting, but long and slow on the lips. She could taste mint as his tongue found hers. “Hi,” she said, trying to sound excited. Or at least not filled with dread. If only she hadn’t promised God…!


They got in the car, and as he pulled out, he said, “I thought we could get a room. Just for a couple of hours. Is that okay?”


“Oh.” She didn’t know you could do that, rent a room and not spend the night. Would it be sleazy, would the manager eye her knowingly while he and Kevin shared a lecherous chuckle? “Okay.” What if I get pregnant? I’m only sixteen! I can’t have a kid!


Madonna’s “Crazy for You” was on the radio, and Kevin took her hand and directed the lyrics to her in a way that was sexy and affectionate, especially the line about never wanting anyone like this; which felt distinctly ironic to her. How many girls had he been with, had he taken them to this same motel? It was so hard not to think about that.


“Crazy for You” ended and “Mad About You” by Belinda Carlisle came on, and he sang that one to her too. She wondered if there was a song called “I Love You” that could come on next, so if he sang it, he’d be forced to say it to her. Then she wondered if God was making a point by having these two songs play, one after another, as if to say Kevin adores you, that has to be enough, and you’re being very brave, I’m proud of you.


Kevin raised her hand to his lips and kissed it. If the next song is about love, I’ll take that as a sign that I’m doing the right thing, she decided, knowing it was stupid and irrational but thinking it anyway. She waited out a commercial for acne medication, and suddenly they were pulling into the parking lot of Sunset Motor Lodge. “Wait,” she said as he started to shut off the engine, “I want to hear what the next song is.”


“Okay. I’ll leave the car running. You can stay here. I’ll be right back.” He was grinning as he got out, closed his door, and went into the office.


A commercial for maxi pads came on. “Hurry up, hurry up,” Lisbeth muttered. Next the DJ made a comment about the weather, how it still felt like summer, and that’s why he was going to play a song about summer…and then “Endless Summer” by the Beach Boys came on, and Lisbeth was left struggling to figure out how it fit in, how it could be the voice of God saying Go ahead, you’re doing great. It wasn’t about love at all. Was that the sign, was God saying, No, no, no, don’t do this, Kevin doesn’t love you?

All too soon Kevin came out of the office and opened his door to shut the engine off and take his car keys. “Room twelve,” he announced.


Lisbeth unlocked her door and slid out. She followed him down a little sidewalk to a door that had the number 12 on it.

He led them in, shut the door and turned on the lights. “Is this okay?”


“It’s fine.”

“Because if you want, we can go to a nicer place. I’ll tell the manager that we’re not staying.”

“No, it’s fine.”


“Okay.” He set the key on the television set and closed the drapes. “I brought some stuff.”


“Oh?” For the first time, she noticed he was holding a paper bag. She sat on the bed. “What did you bring?”


“I wanted to be a little romantic.” He reached in and pulled out a handful of Hershey’s kisses. “I know you love these.”


She felt herself smile. “I do.”


“I was going to get you flowers, but I thought it would be weird to walk into a motel with flowers.” He looked to her for confirmation, and she nodded. “Okay, good. I’ll give you flowers next time I see you.” Then he pulled out a candle. “For ambiance,” he said. He held it out. “Vanilla.”


She sniffed it and nodded again. “Nice.”


“Good.” He put it on the nightstand. “Okay, let’s see, what else. Okay, here we go.” He pulled out a can of Sprite and two plastic cups. “You’re not old enough to drink champagne, so I thought this would be okay.”


Now she laughed. “It’s perfect.”


“Okay, good.” He looked into the bag. “I think that’s it…oh wait, there’s one more thing.” Out came a white envelope, which he handed to her. “I’m not good at saying stuff. So I wrote it down.”


She took it, pulled out a card, and saw a picture of a lion and a lioness hugging; he’d colored in the lion’s skin and mane so that it was dark like his, and he’d drawn long eye lashes and pink lips on the lioness so that she looked sweetly girlish. Inside, he’d written, You are the best thing that ever happened to me and I love you a LOT!! Next to the words was a little red heart sticker, and he’d written xoxoxoxox, Kevin.


She looked up, radiant. “I love all this, I love what you did…thank you for… I love you too.”


He sat next to her. “I know you’re scared, Lissie. And I know I pressured you into this. So if you don’t want to do it, it’s fine, okay? I was serious when I said we didn’t have to, that we could just lie in bed and cuddle.”


“Are you kidding? After all this? I want to.”


“You do?”


“Yes! But…” at last she felt she could be honest, “I’m so scared it’ll hurt.”


“If it hurts, we’ll stop.”

“And I’m scared that…when you see me naked…I’m so flat chested…”


“Cut it out. You’re incredibly sexy.”


“Am I?” She was genuinely surprised and thought about her decision not to wear a bra today in order to spare them both the embarrassment of him putting in the effort to get to her breasts and discovering how small they were. Incredibly sexy? She slipped out of her sweater, knowing he could see the outline of her nipples in her tight white tank top, and for the first time in her life she felt slinky and delicious.


“Ah, Lissie.” He eased her onto her back, his fingers stroking her, making her moan. “We’ll take it slow.” Then he pulled away and took off his shirt. “I brought condoms too, in case you were wondering.”


“I was.” She could hardly catch her breath as he lowered her hand down to his crotch; he was hard and felt huge. There is no way that’s going to fit, she thought in dismay. But when he slipped off her jeans and her panties, he put his finger inside and it felt amazing. She was wet, so wet…and so eager that she tugged down his fly, and suddenly she was holding his penis—slightly spongy, thick, and hungry for her.


It was his turn to moan as he pressed his body against hers, rubbing his erection against her thigh. But he didn’t try to come inside yet. He murmured, “You’re so beautiful, Lissie. Everything is so soft, and you smell so good.” He buried his face in her hair and this time he actually said it: “I love you.”


“I love you too.” Feeling oddly powerful and unexpectedly in charge, she pushed her hips against him.


“Hold on.” Reaching for his jeans, he pulled a condom out of the pocket, opened it, and slid it over his penis.


Excitedly, she welcomed him back into her arms. It hurt a little at first, and she couldn’t hold back a whimper. Kevin pulled out, and slipped his finger back inside her, drawing out her wetness, so that it coated the lips of her vagina. Then he tried again, cautiously, and watching her face. The re-entrance was a little smoother, but as he broke through her hymen, she gasped from the pain and he pulled out again. “I don’t want to hurt you.”


“No, keep going,” she said. “It hurts but it feels good, too.”


“Are you sure?”


“Yes. Keep going.” By then she wanted him so much that nothing was going to stop her. She raised her legs a little, and slowly, he eased in. This time there was no resistance—just the exquisiteness of him. He saw from her expression that she was enjoying it, and he moved in and out more steadily. She matched his rhythm, then urged him to go faster and faster…until she cried out and her whole body tensed… then collapsed into tingles. At the same time, he exploded inside her. Her nails digging into his back, she held him close.


“Wow,” he gasped. “Was it too fast?” He slid off to lie beside her. “Was it okay? Are you okay?”


“I’m okay.” Then she laughed and he laughed with her; held her tight and kissed her hair.


When Lisbeth got home a few hours later, she found Mom scrubbing the kitchen floor. “How did we live with this grime for all these years?” Mom greeted her. “When was the last time I did this? Have I ever done this? Have you ever seen me wash the kitchen floor?”


“No,” Lisbeth answered frankly. She sat gingerly on one of the chairs that had been moved into the dining room (she was a little sore) and watched. “Want some help?”


“No, honey, just sit there and talk to me. How was your date with Kevin?”


“Really good.”


Something about Lisbeth’s tone made Mom look up. That glow…that dreamy voice…was it possible? Mom looked away quickly, her face flushed with discovery. Who would have guessed that Lisbeth would be the first! She kept scrubbing the floor, pretending to be occupied with a stain and rubbing the same spot over and over. I was sixteen my first time too. She took a moment to recall the scene: his anxious fumbling, her own pounding heart. “You’re sure your parents are away for the whole night?” he kept asking. “The whole night,” she assured him “But hurry up, just in case they come home early!” Mom hoped Lisbeth didn’t notice her sudden smile. She moved the brush to another spot and scrubbed some more. “Should I stay over?” he asked as they lay sweating and waiting for their breathing to return to normal. She wanted him to, but she was afraid they’d oversleep and get caught like in that song “Wake Up, Little Susie” by the Everly Brothers. Her parents would have a fit if they came home and caught their only daughter in bed with Martin April! Nevertheless, she drifted off to sleep and so did he, their damp skin cooling in the breeze coming through her window. They awoke before dawn, watched their first sunrise together, and then she walked him to his car—a rusty 1956 Nash Ambassador.


“Mom, let me help,” Lisbeth said, standing and reaching for the rag.


Mom groaned and straightened her back. “No, I’m done. I’ll finish it later.”


“When?”


“In ten years.”


Lisbeth’s laugh, rich and throaty like a woman’s, pleased Mom. “I’m going to shower,” Mom said, “then let’s go out for dinner.”


“I should get just a salad,” Mandy said. "Pizza is so fattening."


“Who cares?” Allie was considering getting extra cheese on her half. “Tim will still love you no matter how much you weigh.”

Jules closed her menu. “Eggplant parmesan.”


“You always get that,” Allie said.


“I like it.”


“What about trying something new?”


“No.”


“Mom, are you having pizza?”


“I think I’ll have a salad too. I really want to lose some weight.”


Allie appealed to her slender sister. “Lissie? Get pizza with me?”


“Okay.”


“Extra cheese?”


“Of course.”


“Just think,” Jules said, “next week at this time I’ll be in my dorm.”


Mom shook her head. “I know this sounds cliché, but it seems like yesterday that Dad and I were bringing you home from the hospital.” She paused as the waitress arrived and took their order. Then she went on in a serious, sentimental voice, “I thought I would be with Dad forever, but that didn’t happen. So I guess I thought you girls would be home with me forever. And that’s not going to happen either. Of course.” She forced herself to laugh.


“I’m only fourteen,” Allie reminded her. “I’ll be home for a long time.” She leaned against Mom’s shoulder. “Please don’t be sad.”


“Oh, honey, I’m not sad. Well, I mean, maybe I am…a little. But at the same time, I’m proud. So proud. You’ve all made me just…so…proud.” Her voice broke.


Mandy’s arm reached across the table to touch Mom’s hand “If we make you proud it’s because you did such a good job with us. Even Jules.”


Jules laughed. “Come on, you know I’m the favorite.”


Allie snorted. “Please! We all know it’s me!”


“Are you guys kidding?” Mandy pointed at each sister one by one. “I practically raised you all while Mom was at work.”


Lisbeth held up a hand. “I almost died,” she reminded them. “Mom has to love me most.”


They all laughed; marveled that Lisbeth could joke about it. They thanked the waitress as she arrived with a pitcher of Diet Coke, and as Mandy poured a glass for everyone, Mom’s eyes toured the table: beautiful, gentle Mandy, now a working girl and deep in her first romance…Jules, the writer, headed to college…Lisbeth, glowing with health and no longer shy, and Allie, who seemed to have grown up a lot this summer and wasn’t as spoiled.


“To us,” Jules said, and held up her glass.


The others did too. Mom couldn’t help feeling sorry for Dad. His own fault that he wasn’t here, of course…but damn, it was so hard to be mad at him.

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