© 2019 by Robin Stratton
  • robinstratton23

16. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jul 28, 2019


As Jules accepted her diploma, she heard Simon shout her name in the crowd, and laughed; she’d shouted his name when he graduated the week before. After the ceremony a bunch of them collected at the April’s home for a cookout, and the talk centered on college.


Simon’s grandfather was trying very hard not to give advice. It had been a month since he’d come home unexpectedly one Wednesday to discover a raucous quartet rocking his den. What’s the meaning of this! he bellowed. What a scene, with Simon almost dropping his guitar, and Jules springing from the couch in alarm. What Mr. Lamarck didn’t tell Simon until later was that he’d stood outside the den for several minutes listening to them play before going in. Didn’t sound that bad, he confessed to a still-stunned Simon, but you can’t make a living doing it.


Sampling Lisbeth’s potato salad he couldn’t resist saying, “Still time to change your major from music to medicine. Eddie’s going to major in medicine, isn’t he? 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. Not only that—he’d opened up a lot and they’d gotten close. 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 hours and hours of philosophical discussions about the meaning of life.


“Real tempting,” Simon responded after a minute.


Kevin, who was planning to attend the same school of music as Simon, joked, “No way. He’d be a lousy doctor!”


Lisbeth joined in the laughter, but she wasn’t really amused; in fact, she hadn’t even heard the exchange. In two months she was going to lose her boyfriend and her favorite sister. How will I stand it? 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?


“Don’t worry, Lissie,” he said, surprised, when she brought it up that evening. “You can trust me. I’m not interested in anyone but you. I’m crazy for you.”


Crazy for me. Not exactly the “L” word. The thing with Kevin was, 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. Certainly he’d never loved any of them. His feelings for Lisbeth were… weird. 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 sighed. 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 Simon’s 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 a couple of hours 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. Simon stared at his feet, wishing she was rich like him so she wouldn’t have to work. At the same time, Jules felt sorry for Simon, who would never enjoy the satisfaction derived from earing 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. Simon recalled horror stories of some of his favorite musicians who’d had to compromise their creativity in order to earn a decent living, and thought, Poor Jules.


Her job was to stuff cotton into bottles of vitamins. In her whole life, she’d never questioned the purpose of that cotton in her vitamins. She assumed it somehow preserved freshness, and 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 was out, she got a round of applause for fitting almost two feet into a jar of Cs.


Three dozen women worked with her. The crotchety bosses 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 who had to take off all the school holidays. Then there were the high school girls who giggled and rolled their eyes and bitched non-stop.


Jules’ supervisor was Gretchen. Everyone called her “Gretch” for short, which suited Jules, because it sounded like a noise you’d make if you were spitting up something gross. Gretch had mastered the art of speaking with a lit cigarette in her mouth. The cigarette stuck to her dry bottom lip, punching the air with each word. 


Each girl 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 thinking about her, wondering why she’d been forced to work in a vitamin factory. Why had she left? Had she gotten pregnant? Maybe she’d been fired for having an affair with Mr. Howard, the boss and most disgusting man of all time. No, Kimmie wouldn’t ever do that. She was probably young and pretty and smart. Or maybe she’d had to quit because she was sick. Maybe from lung cancer because of all the smoke. 



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,” his 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. He rubbed her back, and there was a pensive, unhappy silence.


“Are you going to visit me at school?”


“I’d love that,” Lisbeth said, pleasantly surprised. “But how? I don’t have my license.”


“I’ll come get you on Fridays and bring you back on Sundays.”


“But… where would I… sleep?”


Kevin tried to make his voice casual. “Well, with me. In my dorm room.”


This is so awkward, Lisbeth thought. Kevin and I can usually talk about anything! But I wish he would say, Do you want to have sex? And I could say No yet! 


“We don’t have to… you know,” Kevin assured her.


“We don’t?”


He looked away. Does she have to be so relieved? These past three months with Lisbeth had been about the longest he’d ever gone without having sex. He was proud of the way he hadn’t pressured her, but he was eager to add a new dimension to their relationship. “It might be fun, though.” He shut his eyes and rolled over on his back. 


Lisbeth admired his long, dark curls. Then she looked down to his chest. She’d fantasized for hours about his chest! Putting her cheek against it, having the coarse hair tickle her nose, listening 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, and if it would hurt when he put it inside her.


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


I want to want to, she thought. But no, I don’t want to. “I don’t know.”


“Well… why not?”


“I don’t know.” She looked away. Please understand.


“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 said you’d be home every weekend!”


“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! “Okay,” she said in a tiny voice.


He sat up. “Okay?”


She nodded.

“Really? Are you sure?”


What do you mean, Am I sure? I just told you I’m not ready! You forced me to give you the answer you wanted, and now you’re pretending to want to know if I’m sure? She nodded.


Kevin reached out and pulled her close. “It’ll be great, you’ll see!”



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 episode 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, still speaking out loud. She would have given up a year of her life to have one more month before school started.



If only I thought he loved me, Lisbeth thought unhappily as Kevin pulled into the April’s driveway. For a moment she maintained her post at the living room window, and, watching him get out and head up the walk, she felt the usual thrill of ownership, of familiarity, even of desire. He’s mine, and he wants me. It helped a little. And at least I love him.


“I’m going out for a little while!” she called.


Allie, sketching at the kitchen table, responded dutifully, “Have fun.”


Yeah, right, Lisbeth said as she met Kevin on the porch. 


He kissed her hard on the lips, and there was an eager look in his eye. “I thought we could get a room. Just for a couple of hours. Is that okay?”


“Okay.” A room! What if it was some sleazy place, where the manager would eye her knowingly; maybe he and Kevin would share lecherous chuckles. I don’t want to do this! She followed him to the car, murmured “Thank you,” when he opened her door. What if I get pregnant? I’m only sixteen! I can’t have a kid! 


“Here we go!” Kevin grinned.


Lisbeth stared out the window. Here we go.


The radio was on, so it was okay that they weren’t talking. After a few minutes he said, “Are you okay?”


She nodded.


“I found a place we can go. It looks okay.” He didn’t mention that he’d been there before, with some girl whose name he didn’t even remember.


“Okay.”


Maybe this is a bad idea, he thought reluctantly. She’s being so quiet. But… she said she was ready. She wouldn’t have said she wasn’t ready if she wasn’t. Right? “Here we are.” He pulled into a motel, and parked. “Be right back.”


He killed the engine and climbed out. Lisbeth watched him go inside. She didn’t cry. She wasn’t even that scared anymore. She was hurt and disappointed in Kevin. He’s like a different person.


All too soon he came back out, and held up a key. Lisbeth unlocked her door and slid out.


“Room twelve,” he announced.


She nodded and followed him inside. He shut the door and turned on the lights. Gross. Was it this bad last time? It didn’t matter to him, of course, but maybe he should have sprung for a nicer place. “This okay?”


She nodded.


“You know, you haven’t said a word since I picked you up.” He set the key on the television set, and closed the drapes.


“Sorry.”


Her apology annoyed him. What is this, like the worst thing in the world for her? Trying not to lose his patience, he took her in his arms. “It’ll be nice, Lissie, I promise.”


Please don’t make me do this, her eyes pleaded, but he pretended not to see as he lowered her onto the bed. “We’ll take it slow. Don’t worry.”


“Okay.” She returned his kiss. He took off his shirt, and she watched, interested against her will.


“Want to take yours off?”


“Okay.”


She didn’t move, and neither did he. He blew out a sigh. “You know, you’re lucky! Not everyone’s first time is with someone who loves them as much as… I… whoa.” His eyes opened wide. “Did I just say that?”


Delight filled her. “I think it was you.”


He was caught up in the realization. “What an asshole! Of course I love you! Why didn’t I say it before now? Instead I drag you to this dirtbag motel so I can have sex with you.” He stood. “Let’s get out of here. You said you weren’t ready, but I was too selfish to listen. Jesus. How do you put up with me?”


“Because I love you, too.” She stepped into his arms. “Can we really not do this?”


“Of course. We have the rest of our lives.” He picked the key up off the television set and headed for the door.


She sat on the bed. “In that case, I changed my mind. I’m ready.”


“What?”


“I wanted my first time to be romantic, but with you pressuring me, I knew it wouldn’t be. And that’s why I didn’t want to do it. But when you said you love me…” A smile lit up her face and she laughed. “So are you coming over here, or are you going to do it from over there?”


Her girlish giggle enchanted him. He laughed too, but was still surprised, and didn’t leave his position near the television set, holding the key with the number 12 on it. When she pulled her shirt up over her head, his eyes opened wide. She unsnapped her bra, and feeling deliciously feminine, stroked her small breasts.


He dropped the key and joined her on the bed. Kissing her urgently, his lips traveling along her neck; then warm and moist on her nipples. Lisbeth couldn’t keep herself from letting out a moan of pleasure as Kevin pulled off her jeans, then his own, and his underwear. Lisbeth’s hand found his penis—silky, thick, and hungry for her.


“Won’t that hurt?” she asked, her bravado slipping away like the sheets on the bed.


“I’m going to be gentle.” He pressed her body against his, 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 said again, “I love you.”


“I love you too.” Growing impatient, 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. Lisbeth, watching, thought, I can’t believe this is me! I can’t believe I’m going to have sex! 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 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 slide in 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?”


She nodded. By then she wanted him so bad 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 exquisite entrance. He saw from her expression that she was enjoying it, and moved in and out more steadily. She accommodated to his motions, urging 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 kissed the side of her face, and slid off to lie beside her. “Was it okay? Are you okay?”


She nodded, couldn’t speak yet. He understood, and didn’t speak either.


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 on one of the chairs that had been moved into the dining room, 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 smile… 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 Lawrence 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,” she said, “then let’s go out for pizza.”



“I shouldn’t,” Mandy sighed. “It’s so fattening.”


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


A smile crossed Mandy’s face. “Oh brother,” said Jules. She 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. I really want to lose some weight.”


“Salad for me, too,” said Mandy.


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


“Okay.”


“Extra cheese?”


“Okay.”


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


“Oh my God.” 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 pressed her head 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 rolled her eyes. “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, and thanked the waitress as she arrived with a pitcher of Diet Coke. 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 probably no longer a virgin!)… and Allie, who seemed to have grown up a lot this summer and wasn’t as spoiled. 


“To us,” Jules said, holding 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 it was so hard to be mad at him. People fell in and out of love all the time. It happened. She thought about calling him later. But what if he wasn’t alone? Forget it. 

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