• robinstratton23

17. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jan 28


MOM'S ARM WAS TIGHT around Jules’ waist as they stood in the driveway preparing to say goodbye. “Do you remember your first day of kindergarten?”


“I had to wear a dress.”


“Which you hated. And you hated your shoes even more. You said if I let you go barefoot, you wouldn’t tell anyone.”


Jules laughed with everyone but was wondering what it would it be like to sleep in a dorm where she didn’t know anyone. No more late-night snacks with her sisters, no more morning squabbles over who got to use the bathroom first. No more running next door to visit Simon, whose 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? 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 go to a closer place and not live in a dorm…


“I think we’re all set.” Simon closed the trunk of the 1982 Camaro Grandfather had given him for graduation. But then he leaned against it and waited, willing 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, replaying 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, a 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.


Grandfather admired Simon’s suddenly-tall frame 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.


“Fresh kid,” Grandfather 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.


Grandfather nodded. “Maybe you can leave some of your records with me. The Dead Leopards.”


“Deff Leppard,” Lisbeth corrected gently while the others laughed. She glanced at her watch. Where was Kevin?


Mandy said, “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 has to tell 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 embrace the muse when it strikes,” Jules said. “When it comes to the creativity process, you have to eat, sleep, and breathe your craft.”

Simon 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.”


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.


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 stared straight ahead.


“You okay?”


“Yeah.”


“I’ll take you home to visit any time you want.” He merged with the rest of the traffic headed south. “If you get homesick, you know, during the week or whatever, you can call me, and I’ll come out. Okay?”


“We’ll see.” 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 straight forward rock.” She was rambling, she knew, to distract herself from a case of nerves. Why was it called a case of nerves? When you said What nerve! you were commenting on someone’s audacity, not their state of heightened anxiety. It was nice of Simon to offer to bring her home anytime she wanted. She hoped she wouldn’t have to take him up on it. She’d feel like such a big baby, calling him and saying she wanted to go home.


From Route 128 they got onto the Mass Pike, and before long Jules said, “Here’s the exit.” Simon 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, 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, “Are you going to do anything besides read?”


“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.


When they finished, they took a walk around the campus. The sky was a crisp New England blue, and the trees 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.”


“Thanks. You are too.”


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

“Nah, let’s grab pizza.”


Relief splashed through her. They went back to his car and drove around until he found a pizza place and they each had a slice. As much as she wanted to sit and talk with him, she was also antsy to get back to the dorm. Simon, who always seemed to be able to read her, stood and said, “Okay, I guess it’s time.”


They drove back to the campus and he offered to walk her back to her room. The light was on and the door was open, and 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.


Simon held the poster in place while she tacked it up. Then she hopped off the bed 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.”


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


“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.”


Jules watched Simon's face crumple a little, and thought, Serves him right, how can he be attracted to this ditz? “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. “She’s going to drive me crazy. I hate people who are always cheerful. But it’s okay. As long as you think she’s pretty, Seymour.”


Simon, still humiliated, lacked a snappy rebuttal. They arrived at his car, but he didn’t open the door right away. Jules, wondering uneasily if he was going to try to kiss her, said, “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. Should I kiss him? “Thanks again for everything, Simon.” She hugged him then ran back to the dorm.


Jules 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, 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 Iron Maiden, ACDC, Black Sabbath, and other contemporary stuff by heavy metal artists. And of course the room she shared with PJ was headquarters for the Springsteen freaks. They came from all over, squeezing in, sitting on both beds, 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 and you wanted to bug him back) 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 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 walked to the Willow Street Diner and hotly debated issues they found interesting: rationality versus empiricism, determinism versus free will, Tolstoy versus Dostoyevsky. The waitress was a sour, middle-aged woman named Bernadine who hated them because they stayed past closing ordering nothing but coffee (hot tea for Jules) 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 Bernadine kicked them out the discussion would continue during a long stroll 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 major in philosophy too, which was going to be double the amount of work. She wasn’t sure when she’d be home again.

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