• robinstratton23

17. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jul 28, 2019

Mom’s arm was around Jules’ waist as they stood in the driveway preparing to say goodbye. Her mind shot back to Jules’ first day of kindergarten: the way she wiggled impatiently while Mom tried to get her into a dress, the way she’d declared, I hate these shoes, let me go barefoot, I promise I won’t tell anyone.

“I’ll call as soon as I’m settled. Give you the phone number at the dorm.”

“Okay.” Mom’s grip tightened.

Jules nodded, swallowed hard. What would it be like, to sleep in a different bed tonight? What would she do without all the comfortable routines? The late-night cups of tea? The morning squabbles over who got to use the bathroom first? Giggling, watching tv… there’d be no more running next door to visit Simon—his college was an hour away from hers. How would she get used to not seeing him every day? She was even going to miss Mandy and Allie’s silly discussions about boys and fashion! And what about Lisbeth… what if she got sick again? Urgently, she surveyed their faces. It’s not too late… I don’t have to go! I can just tell them I changed my mind, like Steve in the last scene of American Graffiti or I can go next year. Or I can go to a local college! That way I can still live at home…

“I think we’re all set.” Simon closed the trunk of the 1982 Camaro his grandfather had given him upon graduation. But then he leaned against it and waited, wanting to give Jules as much time as she needed.

“I can’t believe this day is finally here!” Mandy’s voice was bright and broke through the melancholia. “The day you’ve been dreaming about since you were a kid? Remember the first time she asked about going to college, Mom? She was like, four.”

“Already reading and writing,” Mom recalled. “We couldn’t figure out how she knew about college. Dad said maybe from watching Love Story.”

“That sappy movie!” Jules frowned; but with the familiar combination of anger and hurt, she replayed in her head Dad’s call last week: I’m so sorry, Jules, that I won’t be there to see you off! But I have an interview coming up, and real good one, and I have to get ready. She’d heard the sincere disappointment in his voice, and grudgingly agreed to call as soon as she could.

“I, on the other hand, have been dreading this,” Simon announced.

Mr. Lamarck admired his grandson’s suddenly-tall frame (although he hated with Simon slouched—he’d spoken to him about it so many times) and sighed. “I envy you both. My college days were—”

“The best days of my life,” Simon nailed the mournful tone Grandfather always used to describe his youth.

Mr. Lamarck laughed some more. “Fresh kid,” he chided, affectionately.

“No more rock band jamming in your living room. You’re going to miss it, I bet. Next time you put on a Beethoven record you’ll think, It’s okay but you can’t dance to it.

Mr. Lamarck went along with it: “Maybe you can leave some of your records with me. The Dead Leopards, maybe.”

“Deff Leppard,” Lisbeth corrected gently while the others laughed.

Simon noticed that Allie’s gaze was locked on Jules, as if they were never going to see each other again. “You know,” he said, “I’m going away, too.”

Allie’s blue eyes met his. “I know. It’s going to be so weird, not having you guys around all the time.”

“They’ll visit a lot,” Lisbeth consoled her, but at the same time she glanced at her watch. Where was Kevin?

Mandy, thankful that Tim was a teacher, not a student headed to another state, joked, “One thing I won’t miss is Jules keeping me awake with her typing at night. I lie there thinking When is she going to finish that thing?

“Writing a book takes a long time.” Unexpectedly, Allie came to Jules’ defense. “Sometimes Lisbeth tells me to stop drawing and shut out the light.”

“I wish I could play late at night,” Lisbeth put in. “Sometimes I have such great ideas for a song… but that would really wake the house.”

“You have to do it when the muse strikes,” Jules said. Effortlessly, they fell into a discussion about the creativity process; that you had to eat, sleep, and breathe your craft.

When Simon realized they were stalling, he interrupted, “Hey, College Girl, we going or not?”

“We’re going,” Jules affirmed reluctantly. If only she could stay one more night! If only she could just have one more day of hanging out with Mom and her sisters! 

“Just wait until Kevin gets here,” Lisbeth said. “He should be here any second.”

Jules asked Simon, “Can we wait until Kevin gets here?”

“Sure.” The truth was, Simon wasn’t that anxious to drop her off, he was just looking forward to the hour drive with her. Watching her circulate among her sisters, promising to call and write, he admired her glossy chestnut hair, always within the untidy confines of a ponytail. Her fresh skin bore not a trace of makeup, and as she laughed at something Mom said, desire for her made him ache. If only we could get past this stupid just friends shit! he thought for the millionth time. But maybe while we’re apart she’ll miss me and call me a lot. And we can be alone, without her family or the band.

Jules sensed his stare, and turned to look at him; his carefree grin. He’s so lucky! He’s not nervous about leaving. He’s not going to call home every night, maybe in tears from missing everyone. But he’d never learned to depend on the love and warmth of family—and of course there was nothing lucky about that. 

Just then Kevin’s car—not new like Simon’s, but a copiously-dented 1975 Chevy he was still making payments on—pulled into the driveway. He emerged with a bouquet of flowers.

In a moment Lisbeth was in his arms, holding him like she was never going to let him go. When at last they pulled apart, he handed her the flowers. “So you don’t forget about me.”

“’As if,” Lisbeth said, taking them.

“Mom, I’m trusting you to take good care of my girl,” Kevin greeted her cheerfully, but no one missed the note of remorse. Lisbeth’s eyes were all over him as if to memorize every detail of his appearance: his long black curls, his dark, sparkly eyes, his sexy smile.

At last Simon coaxed Jules into the car. As he drove off, Jules hung out the window, waving and shouting “Goodbye!” and watching her family grow smaller. When they rounded the corner, she turned in her seat, buckled her seatbelt, and let out a deep sigh.

“You okay?” Simon was tempted to reach out and give her hand a comforting squeeze, but Jules had never been much of a hand holder, so he resisted.

She nodded, and tried to focus on being excited; mentally inventorying her stuff and hoping she hadn’t forgotten to bring anything.

“I’m proud of you, you didn’t cry,” he said. “I was sure you would.”


“I’ll take you home to visit any time you want.”

“Thanks.” She looked out the window.

Simon merged with the rest of the traffic headed north on Route 128. “If you get real homesick, you know, during the week or whatever, you can call me and I’ll come out. Okay?”

“We’ll see. Here’s the exit for 128.” Leaning forward, she turned on the radio, spinning the knob until she found “What a Fool Believes” by the Doobie Brothers. “Ooh, I like this song.” She leaned back. “You know, I always thought these guys were just okay, but now that they have Michael McDonald, I think they’re much better, even though I know a lot of people liked them better when they were more rock and less jazz.”

Simon was barely listening. He was hoping Jules would be ambushed by homesickness and call him for comfort. He’d drive over, hold her, stroke her hair, murmur that he’d be glad to take her home any time she wanted…

“Cripes, Simon!” Her shrill voice interrupted the romantic scene. “You just cut that guy off!”

Simon looked into the rear view and saw the man in the car behind him give him the finger. Cursing his carelessness, Simon debated whether or not he had a justifiable reason to be mad, too; decided he didn’t, and gave a wimpy shrug. Thoroughly disgraced, he turned up the volume. What a fool believes…

From 128 they got onto the Mass Pike, and before long Jules said, “Here’s the exit.”  She sat straight in her seat, suddenly eager. He swung off the highway and followed her directions until they reached her new school.

It had a small but pretty campus, with a couple of co-ed dorms. She’d requested a single room, but they were reserved for upper classmen, so she would just have to wait. In the meantime, how bad could her roommate be?

Simon found a parking spot near her dorm, and they began unloading her stuff. He complained about the weight of one box, and when she said it was full of books, he said, “You brought books to school? Are you going to do anything besides read?” But secretly he was pleased. The more she stayed in her room, the less chance there was that she’d meet someone.

“I’m in a Hermann Hesse phase.” Now that she was here and her room was being filled with her belongings, she was getting excited. Simon plugged in the cassette player he’d given her as a graduation present, and they listened to Food of the God’s third album Planning a Head while they unpacked. Simon, who was transferring her clothes from boxes to drawers, covertly studied her bras and fingered the cups.

When they finished, they took a walk around the campus. The sky was a crisp New England blue, and the trees were a vivid splash of late summer red and yellow. The air was brisk, and even though the day was sunny, it wasn’t hot. Jules, comfortable in her blue Buddy Holly Lives! sweatshirt, exclaimed, “I can’t believe I’m here! This is so cool!” Overcome with affection and the anticipation of loneliness, she grabbed his hand. “Thanks so much for driving me, Simon. And thanks for everything you’ve done for me. You’re a great friend.”

Simon was too surprised and awkward to even say Thanks or You’re welcome, and just looked away.

“It’s getting kind of late,” she said. “Should you go? You still have an hour to drive, then unpack your stuff… ”

“Nah, let’s grab pizza.”

So they went back to his car, found a pizza place, then drove around to see what else was nearby. Afterwards, he walked her back to her room.

The light was on and the door was open. When they went in, they saw a girl standing the bed that Jules had not appropriated with sheets, trying to hang up a gigantic poster of Bruce Springsteen. Her shorts were so short that Jules could see cheeks, and her thick strawberry-blond hair was in an elegant French braid secured with a green ribbon. Jules heard Simon catch his breath.

The girl turned awkwardly, facing them while struggling to hold the poster in place. Jules noticed that she wasn’t wearing a bra under her skimpy t-shirt.

“Oh hi! Are you my roomie? I hope you like Springsteen!”

“Need a hand?” Simon offered gallantly.

The girl said “Thanks!” in a voice so perky it sounded like she said Thinks. Her very white teeth surrounded by perfectly-shaped pink lips formed a dazzling smile. Her complexion was flawless. A living Barbie Doll. 

Simon scrambled to hold Bruce in place while she tacked him up. Then they hopped off the bed together, and she gazed adoringly at the wall. “Isn’t he amazing? I just love him! Do you guys?”

Simon babbled, “Yeah, Springsteen. I’m in a band and we get requests for his stuff all the time.” He didn’t mention that no one in Chicken Slax was a fan of “the Boss.” 

“Oh wow, a band, cool! My name’s Paula Jean, but everyone calls me PJ.”

Of course they do, Jules thought wryly. The name reminded her of a little boy who showed up once at the back door early on a Saturday morning to ask if they had a sandbox. Only his name had been AJ, and he’d moved away just a month later.

“I’m Simon. This is Jules.”

“Hi! Are you two… ?” PJ pointed at them, back and forth a couple of times, and left the question dangling.

Jules pretended not to understand. “Are we what.”

“You know, boyfriend and girlfriend?”

“No, just friends.”

Jules felt betrayed by Simon’s hasty response. “Just friends,” she confirmed. “Simon helped me move in.”

“My boyfriend was supposed to help me, but he couldn’t. He’s in law school.”

Simon’s face fell. Serves you right, Jules thought. Imagine Simon being attracted to someone to such a ditzy girl! And a fan of Bruce Springsteen, no less! “Well, it’s getting late,” she said. “I’ll walk you to your car.”

“Okay. Nice to meet you, PJ.”

“Nice to meet you, Seymour!”

“Uh, Simon.” 

Smirking, Jules pulled him out. “Well, that’s that,” she said.

“That’s what?”

“I’m going to flunk out.”

“What? Why?”

“She’s so… you saw her! She’ll drive me crazy and I won’t be able to concentrate and I’ll flunk out. But that’s okay. As long as you think she’s pretty, Seymour.”

Jules was kind of kidding, but she was kind of serious too. Simon, still humiliated, lacked a snappy rebuttal. They arrived at his car, but he didn’t open the door right away.

Jules examined a thumb nail that had chipped during the moving process, and wondered uneasily if Simon was going to try to kiss her. “I’ll call home and give them my number here, then you can call there and get the number, then you can call me and give me the number where I can call you. Okay?”

“Okay.” He turned and opened the door.

Something about his voice filled her with guilt. “Thanks again for everything, Simon.” She kissed him—fast—on the cheek, and ran back to the dorm. 

He felt the familiar dull resignation that accompanied her absence, and sighed deeply. At least she kissed me, I didn’t kiss her, he thought, and had to be satisfied with that.

Jules, majoring in English, immediately fell into the routine of attending class all day, reading and writing all evening. She spent a lot of time at the library, running her fingers along ancient spines, planning to study a variety of topics on her own, beginning with the A’s: astronomy, archeology, alchemy… and concluding with zoology in her senior year. She liked all her professors, and they, in turn, appreciated her presence in the first row; her hand shooting in the air whenever she knew the answer to a question, which was more often than not.

Dorm life suited her, too. She loved walking up and down the halls listening to the different music streaming out of each room. Most of the kids left their doors open (unless they were making out inside, and even then sometimes they left the door open) and as she walked by she could match the music with the listener. A couple of music majors in 212 liked Beethoven. Room 217 was usually Beatles. Three rooms housed pop music fans—REO Speedwagon, Billy Joel, and Boston, and the residents of 223 favored the mellow tones of Air Supply and the Bee Gees. Upstairs and downstairs, the boys’ floors, were a combination of Van Halen, ACDC, Black Sabbath, and other contemporary stuff by artists who, in Jules’ opinion, were not popular because they were good but because their videos on MTV featured hot babes. And of course her own room was headquarters for all the Springsteen freaks. They came from all over, squeezing in, sitting on her bed, talking about how cute Bruce looked in jeans, debating whether he looked sexier with a beard or without.

Occasionally Jules would try to talk about other music with them. None of them had heard of Food of the Gods, and when Jules offered to play a few songs, they were physically incapable of turning off Bruce. They’d say, “Maybe after this song… oh wait, I love the song after this song!”

PJ fascinated her. So relentlessly cute, Jules wondered how she didn’t die of it. Doesn’t seem to care at all about her grades. I’ve never seen her do homework. She has a little TV and watches it a lot, Jules wrote home. Does her tv watching disturb you? Mom’s letter asked; and Allie wrote, I think PJ sounds nice! But by the time the letter landed in Jules’ mailbox, she’d already made other friends.

Charles (never “Chuck” and never ever “Chaz” unless he was bugging the shit out of you) was a brilliant philosophy major with black hair already streaked with gray, and intense, sullen eyes. His specialty was Objectivism. When Jules confessed that she’d never heard of it, he explained that according to its founder, Ayn (rhymes with mine) Rand, the pursuit of happiness is the sole purpose of life, and therefore the only way for an individual to be happy is to do exactly what he or she wants. “The virtue of selfishness,” he said, and recommended that she read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. Jules tried to oblige him but couldn’t finish either, and was not tempted to convert once she saw how quickly he established a reputation of being arrogant and difficult, even among his professors.

His girlfriend Dawn was studying mathematics. She rivaled Charles intellectually, but where he was argumentative, she was peaceful and gracious. Although he would have dismissed her niceties as “philistine” in anyone else, he wasn’t above letting her rub his feet after a long day. 

Nathaniel was a psychology major who, like any psychology major worth his or her salt, couldn’t understand why anyone would major in anything else. “Psychology is always relevant. It’s the only discipline that ultimately makes sense, no matter what.” The combination of his long blond hair and forest-green eyes was an initial attraction to a lot of the girls in his classes, but he complained to Jules, “You try to talk to one of them about something besides clothes or makeup and you might as well be speaking Latin. Which I can, by the way.”

Three or four nights a week they went to the Willow Street Diner and hotly debated issues they found interesting—rationality versus empiricism; determination vs. free will; Tolstoy vs. Dostoyevsky. The waitress was a sour, middle-aged woman named Ethel who hated them because they stayed past closing ordering nothing but coffee amidst conversation that often escalated into shouting and table pounding. Dawn, occupied with the concrete study of numbers, frequently rebuked metaphysical points she found unconvincing with a fiery cry of “If you want answers, read Gödel!” When Ethel kicked them out, if the weather was agreeable, the discussion would continue during a long walk through town.

Simon was the first casualty of Jules’ new life. He was surprised, then disappointed when her Please come get me! call never came. It was only after he joined forces with her family and they all begged for a solid month that she finally agreed to come home. But during the visit she announced that she had decided to go for a double major—English and psychology—and a minor in philosophy, which was going to be a lot more work. She wasn’t sure when she’d be home again.

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© 2019 by Robin Stratton