19. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Jan 29
ALONE MOST OF THE TIME, Allie tried to keep busy drawing for two hours a day. She took art books out of the library and studied perspectives and different color theories. She read biographies of painters she admired and established an appreciation of how culture influenced their style, especially the Pre-Raphaelites, whose movement was sparked by rebellion against the careful, almost mechanistic art promoted by The Royal Academy of Arts. She loved the colors and the detail, and that they followed four “declarations:” to have genuine ideas to express, to study Nature in order to express them, to sympathize with “serious and heartfelt art” but exclude anything “conventional and self-parading and learned by rote,” and (most importantly) to create “thoroughly good pictures and statues.”
At night she’d lie in bed listening enviously to Lisbeth’s steady breathing, and each morning it was almost impossible to get up and face another day.
She returned to school with an unfamiliar sense of dread. Her stomach turned over every time she recalled the scene with Billy Nugent: “You think you can have everything you want! Well I’m not going to fall for any of your tricks! I go out with girls who are sensitive and smart and unselfish. Who have better things to think about than clothes!” and she knew every word was true. She and her friends were the snottiest bitches in school. God, all the times they made fun of other kids for stupid reasons—jeans were too tight or too loose, shoes were ugly, hair was greasy, ass was big, skin was pocked—she was so ashamed. All summer long she’d promised herself she’d change. She’d get new friends, like the girls on that show The Facts of Life. They were so nice. They helped each other and supported each other. Listened to each other’s problems and gave such good advice.
But she hadn’t made new friends. She’d gone back to her old clique, and right now they were mimicking Elaine Jackson, who had a lisp. I should tell them to shut up, Allie thought, disappointed in her aborted attempt at benevolence. I don’t even like them. Why do I hang around with them?
She knew why. She was afraid. Afraid of what they’d say about her if she dropped out of the group, afraid that the other kids would assume the group had kicked her out, and they’d all want to know why, and her friends would make up some outrageous story that Allie could never live down.
“So why don’t you have a boyfriend?” Tina asked her suddenly.
“Um, I don’t know. I’m not interested in anyone.”
“Not interested in anyone?” Janine looked at the others. “What are you, a lesbo now?”
“Gross,” Carly said. “Do you guys like this color?” She held out her hand and they examined her nails, which were neon orange.
“No, it looks like shit.” Tina slammed her locker shut. “What about the new kid…what’s his name…”
“Zeke,” Janine said. “He’s wicked skinny.”
“And he has bad teeth. I’m like, Helloooo…ever heard of a toothbrush?”
“And his breath! It smells like puke.”
Allie knew when a kid was new in school, it could go either way—they could fall in with the top tier group if they were good looking or excelled in some sport, or find themselves hanging out with the nerds if they were super smart. If they were unattractive in some way, or had no confidence, they wound up with kids who looked like them or acted like them; outcasts who were either single or dating someone in their group. Allie had never seen anyone cross over from one group to another. She had Zeke in one of her classes, had noticed his teeth and the way he ducked his head without meeting anyone’s eyes, and knew he was destined for the bottom tier. Last year she would no doubt have joined in on the mocking, but now she thought, If I don’t have the guts to tell them to stop, I will at least not say anything.
“Anyway,” Janine said, “Allie, let us know if you’ve gone lesbo. No more sleepovers!”
I hate them, Allie thought as she watched them shuffle off, laughing and glancing back at her. I hate us.
An hour later she was walking from English to Geography when she started to notice that there was something different about the way other kids were looking at her. Was it her imagination, or were they staring? Exchanging comments and giggles? Did they…was it possible that…could her friends have been spreading the rumor that she was a lesbian? She couldn’t figure out if it was really happening, or if it was just in her head.
She had trouble paying attention in class. Half the boys in the school, she knew for a fact, liked her but were too intimidated by her looks to even approach her. How could anyone think she was a lesbian? All she’d done was flirt with boys. Everyone knew she liked boys. Didn’t they?
When she slid into her seat in her second-to-last class, she saw Zeke sitting a couple of desks ahead of her, shoulders hunched, hands in his lap. He had really really short hair, and like her friends said, was too thin. He had no chest at all, let alone muscles, and she liked muscular boys. But as she looked at him, she felt her heart break a little. He didn’t have a chance, he was like a bunny in a wolf’s den. Wouldn’t it be nice of her to welcome him…befriend him? That way he could maybe get off to a good start. For the whole class, she tried to figure out what to do…if she approached him what would people think? Could he rise to her group, or would she sink to his? By the time the bell rang, she’d made up her mind not to do it.
But when she stood to leave, she noticed that Gary Williams and Leo DeCosta, two of the biggest bullies in the school, were grinning at each other as they headed for Zeke’s desk.
“Hey, dude,” Gary said. “You got something against toothpaste?” Leo laughed, and “accidentally” knocked Zeke’s books onto the floor.
“You big jerks,” Allie heard herself say. “Leave him alone.”
Gary and Leo looked at her in surprise. “What?” Gary asked.
“Just leave him alone,” Allie said. She could feel Zeke’s shame and humiliation as if it were her own. A girl sticking up for him—it must have been mortifying. She added, “You guys are so much bigger. And he’s new,” in a tone that was soft and borderline flirty—her most effective weapon.
They acknowledged her logic, “Yeah, okay,” and backed off.
As Zeke crouched to gather up his books, she decided the best thing to do was not to help him. So she just tried to come up with something to say, and what she came up with was, “I’ve never been the new kid in a school. It must totally suck.”
He stood; he was exactly her height, and their eyes met. “It’s okay.”
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, that’s not far. Well, you already knew that. Duh.” She smiled. “What was your old school like?”
“Okay. This school seems harder.”
“If you need any help with…” she stopped herself and laughed—and it wasn’t the fake kind of laugh she usually used on boys, it was genuine. “Oh my god, I was just about to offer to help you, and I’m like, the world’s worst student!”
“Well, I’m not like a burn out or anything, but my grades are just…not so great. My sister Jules is a complete genius.”
The bell that told kids that hall time was over, and they should now be walking into the next class rang.
“Oh no! I’m so sorry!” Allie said. “You’re going to be late because of me.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Zeke said. “It must be nice to have a sister who’s a genius.”
“It is.” He must think I’m an idiot. Good thing I only have him in one class! I hope he won’t tell anyone how stupid I sounded. She had a feeling he wouldn’t. He seemed like a nice kid. Too nice for me.
She started skipping lunch to avoid seeing her friends, sometimes hiding out in the library, or on nice days she’d sneak outside and walk around the parking lot. Once she went to the park near the school, even though leaving school grounds was forbidden. There was another kid there, swinging all by himself on one of the swings, and to her surprise, she saw that it was Zeke.
“You’re not supposed to be here during the school day,” she said.
“I know. But I just couldn’t stay inside. The sun feels so good.”
She sat in the swing next to him. “I hate winter.”
“It’s so cold and it gets dark so early.” Then she shrugged. “Not that it matters. I don’t do anything anyway.” Again, she was aware that this was said in a matter-of-fact voice; not as a playful hint to be asked out. It was weird; she was nervous around him, but at the same time, she felt like she could be herself. “I have three sisters but they’re not around much.”
“Are they all geniuses, or just the one?”
She was pleased that he remembered. “Just the one. But she’s at college and the other two are practically engaged.”
“What about your mom and dad?”
“My dad left a couple years ago. And my mom works a lot. She’s paying back our neighbor from when he paid a lot of medical bills from when my sister was sick.”
“What was wrong with her?”
“She had cancer.”
“Is she okay?”
“Yeah, after chemo and stuff, she’s fine. I mean, as far as we know. She seems good.”
“That’s good,” Zeke said. “I’m glad.”
Allie slid off the swing. “We should get back. We’re really not supposed to—”
“You go ahead. I’m going to stay here.”
“What about your classes?”
“I can miss a few.”
“Honest. It doesn’t matter. I can’t go back in. Don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Okay.” I should stay too. Who cares if I don’t go to class? Who would even notice? But she got the sense that he wanted to be alone, so she said she’d see him later, and she walked back across the street, back inside.
Skipping lunch felt good, and she lost a few pounds. That also felt good, and soon she began to skip breakfast, too. At first Lisbeth commented on it—she knew how much Allie loved sugary cereal in the morning. But Allie said she’d been meeting with her friends before school and having breakfast with them. When Lisbeth asked what they ate, Allie told her that Tina had granola bars that were full of vitamins but didn’t have a lot of calories. Her ability to lie with such ease took her completely by surprise.
She lost more weight, and when she looked at herself naked in the bathroom mirror, she thought, A little better. But I’m still too fat. I just need to keep on my diet. I need to lose more weight.
There was no way to skip dinner, so she cut back as much as she could, claiming she’d had something to eat with her friends after school. When Lisbeth baked a cake for Mom’s birthday in October, Allie had a very small piece with no ice cream, and while they lingered over opening presents, Allie couldn’t even listen. The cake in her stomach was like lead. So heavy. And gross. She felt like throwing up. Finally, she said she’d be right back and went into the bathroom. How are you going to lose weight if you pig out on cake? Disgusted and nauseous, she leaned over the toilet, put her finger down her throat, and to her relief, the cake came right up. Dinner, too. Feeling much better, she flushed. I won’t make a habit of it. Just once in a while when I’ve eaten too much.
Jules came home for Thanksgiving, and for the first several minutes she just walked around the house, smelling the familiar fragrances and delighting in all the knickknacks that hadn’t been moved or dusted since she left.
When they all settled down in the living room, Mom asked how her classes were going. Lisbeth filled her in on what the band had been up to, and Mandy asked if she’d met any cute guys.
Jules was in the middle of a story about one of her professors who had gone to Europe when he was a teenager to meet his favorite writer, only to discover that the writer was in America on a book tour, when she noticed that Allie was sitting very still, her hands in her lap. She looks so pale…and she’s so thin! Has she been sick? How come Mom didn’t tell me? Jules kept talking but grew more and more concerned. Her hair isn’t curled, and she hardly has any makeup on!
Tim arrived to take Mandy out, then Kevin came for Lisbeth. Mom eventually went to bed, and Jules and Allie were alone.
“What’s the matter,” Jules asked immediately.
Jules put on the Letterman show, and even though Dave’s antics were hilarious, Allie just sat quietly, and at the first commercial break she stood and said, “I’m really glad you’re home, Jules. See you in the morning.”
But Jules pulled her back onto the couch. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Come on. Tell me. Please.”
“Why? No one cares about me anymore. Everyone is so…whatever.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You’re all too busy with your exciting lives. No one is ever around. No one has time for me. Mandy and Lisbeth are so madly in love with their boyfriends. If only I had a boyfriend! If only I had any friends!”
“What? I thought you had tons of friends.”
Allie hesitated another moment, then plunged in, sparing none of the gruesome details about her behavior, and concluding with the fear that her friends were spreading a rumor that she was a lesbian.
Jules said, “Well that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. If anyone likes boys, it’s you.”
“Yeah, but now kids think that I—”
“So what? Guess who else kids thought that about.”
“Sure. I was never interested in boys or clothes or hair or makeup. Kids called me queer all the time.”
“But…how did you stand it?”
“It didn’t bother me because I knew it wasn’t true. And even if it was, so what? Kids need someone to pick on. That’s how they are. When they got tired of calling me names, they found someone else. This kid, Ellis Gardner, he had really thick glasses. They called him ‘Coke Bottles.’ Once they just kept chanting it over and over until he cried so hard, he wet his pants.”
“Oh my god! What happened to him?”
“He lived. And they found someone else…this girl who was really heavy, I forget her name. But she fought back. And the madder she got, the more they loved it. Finally, they got tired of her and found someone else. See what I mean? You might have a couple of weeks of this—or less if you ignore them—and it’ll blow over. Then it’ll be Christmas vacation and I’ll be home again, and so will Simon. We’ll do stuff. We’ll make him take us out every night. Okay?”
“And next semester you can come visit me at school. It’ll be fun. You can take the train—I’ll meet you at the station and we can walk to the campus. Want to?”
“Yes!” For the first time, Allie smiled. “Jules, thanks for listening.”
But when she held out her arms for a hug, Jules backed away. “Whoa, don’t touch me if you’re a lesbian.”
Allie let out a laugh so loud that she covered her mouth and hoped she hadn’t woken Mom. Jules pulled her close and held her tight.