19. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Jul 28, 2019
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 even read biographies of painters she admired and tried to copy their styles. But nothing looked good.
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, which she could remember word for word, 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! She’d spent the whole summer looking at the truth, that he was right. She and her friends were the snottiest bitches in school, and everyone knew it. But still… how could he have embarrassed her like that? Had he told anyone? She thought about all the times she and her friends made fun of other kids for stupid reasons−their jeans were too short and you could see their socks, their hair was greasy, their skirt made them look fat, they had a run in their nylons, they were wearing too much eye shadow−and felt so ashamed. All summer long she’d promised herself she’d change. She’d get new friends, like the girls on that show The Fact 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. Still stinging from Billy’s scathing critique, her self-esteem was in the dumps, and she desperately needed their approval. And she was afraid of what the other kids would say; they’d assume that 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 yet?” Tina asked her suddenly.
Allie shrugged. “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 sucks.” Tina slammed her locker shut. “What about the new kid, what’s his name?”
“Zeke Stapleton,” Janine said. “He’s wicked skinny.”
“And he has bad teeth. I’m like, Helloooo… ever heard of a toothbrush?”
“And his breath! God, it smells like puke.”
Allie turned away. When a kid was new in school, it could go either way, depending on their looks. Sometimes it only took a day to establish the rep that would persevere until graduation. Allie had Zeke in one of her classes, and had noticed his teeth. Last year she would have joined in on the mocking. 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!” and they all laughed. It was such an ugly sound.
I hate them, Allie thought. I hate us.
Before too long she started thinking there was something different about the way other kids were treating her. Was it her imagination, or were they staring at her? Exchanging comments and giggles? She couldn’t figure out if it was really happening, or if it was just in her head. Did they… was it possible that… could her friends have been spreading the rumor that she was a lesbian?
She had trouble paying attention in class. All she could think about was that she no longer had any admirers. It used to be that if she wore a new outfit or a new hairstyle, ten or fifteen kids would immediately compliment her. Half the boys in the school, she knew for a fact, liked her but were too intimidated by her looks to even approach her. Suddenly she felt… insecure. Like everyone was judging 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 remembered that this was the one that new kid was in… what was his name? Zeke. Pretending to be occupied with her books, she covertly studied him. 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 sitting with head bowed, fingers fumbling with his notebook, not making eye contact with anyone, her heart went out to him. 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 her heart pounded with anxiety about what she was going to do; back and forth she went… should she approach him? What would people think? 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 Billy 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?” Billy laughed, and “accidentally” knocked Zeke’s books onto the floor.
“You big jerk,” Allie heard herself say. “Leave him alone.”
Gary and Billy looked at her in surprise. “What?” Gary asked. He’d been nursing a crush on Allie April for two years; Billy’s had been going on for three.
“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.” For the first time ever, she felt awkward talking to a boy. And to her surprise it was… kind of fun. “What was your old school like?”
He shrugged. “It was pretty good. 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 be walking into the next class now rang.
“Oh no! I’m so sorry!” Allie said. “You’re going to be late because of me.”
“That’s okay,” Zeke said. He smiled. “It must be nice to have a sister who’s a genius.”
Walking home an hour later she replayed the conversation in her head over and over. He must think I’m an idiot. Thank God I only have him in one class! I hope he didn’t tell anyone how stupid I sounded. For some reason, she had a feeling he didn’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, 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. Before you know it, it’ll be winter and I won’t be able to be out. I can’t get over how blue the sky is today. Did you notice?”
She looked up; actually, she had noticed, because her mind had automatically computed how much green, white, and red she’d have to add to blue to match it. “It’s gorgeous.” After a minute, she sat in the swing next to him. “The sun feels so good.”
“I hate winter.”
He looked at her. “How come you hate it?”
“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 two years ago. And my mom works a lot. She’s paying back a lot of medical bills from when my sister was sick.”
“What was wrong with her?”
“She had cancer.”
“Is she okay?”
“Yeah. She was real sick for a while. Chemo and stuff. But 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. It doesn’t matter.”
“Honest. It doesn’t matter if I miss a few. I can’t go back in. Don’t tell anyone, okay?”
“Of course not.”
She waited for him for another minute, then took one more look at the sky—it really was a gorgeous day. I should just stay out 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 they didn’t have a lot of calories.
She lost more weight, and as 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 November, 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. Looking at herself in the mirror she thought, 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 a couple of times 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, wearing a mild smile. 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’s hardly got 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 never laughed even once, and within just a few minutes she stood and said, “I’m really glad you’re home, Jules. See you in the morning.” She’d grown to look forward to nights when Lisbeth was out so that she could lie in bed and cry.
But Jules pulled her back onto the couch. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Allie shrugged. She didn’t even know; she’d been lonely for so long that she could hardly remember why she was so depressed. Nothing excited her anymore. The only thing that brought pleasure was throwing up after a meal, which she had done right after dinner. And lately she’d been thinking about what it would be like to get cancer, like Lisbeth; she decided she wouldn’t even mind dying. Everyone would feel sorry for her and they’d have to spend time with her, and after she was dead everyone who’d been mean to her would feel horrible for the rest of their lives.
Jules tried to come up with something to say. She’s so quiet. She’s like an old woman. What’s been going on, why didn’t anyone tell me? “Just talk to me. Please.”
Suddenly angry, Allie said, “No one cares about me! Everyone is so… whatever!”
“What are you talking about? We all—”
“Bullshit! You’re all too busy with your exciting lives!” Allie’s voice rose to a furious wail. “No one is ever around. No one has time to ask me how I feel or how my day was. Mandy and Lisbeth are so madly in love with their boyfriends… if only I had a boyfriend! If only I had any friends!”
Her anger gave way to despair, and she broke down and sobbed. Jules held her tight, let her cry and then, when the tears slowed down, she said, “Tell me exactly what’s going on.”
So Allie told her about what Billy Nugent had said, about her own realization that she was spoiled and stuck up, and finally, about her friends maybe spreading a rumor that she was a lesbian.
To this last bit, Jules said, “Well that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. If anyone likes boys, it’s you.”
“Yeah, but I think the kids think that—”
“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?”
Allie nodded. “Okay.”
“And next semester you can come visit me at school.”
“Yeah, it’ll be fun! You can take the train in—I’ll meet you there and we can walk to the campus. Want to?”
I can’t wait for you to visit!!!!!! I hated seeing you so upset. If there’s anything I can do, please let me know. Call me at the dorm anytime—Mom has the number. If you can’t sleep or something, call me, I’ll probably be up. You’ll like it here. The campus is really pretty and you might want to do some drawing. Plus we have an art gallery here, too, where students submit their work. Some of them are really pretentious, or maybe I just don’t understand them. Maybe you can explain some of them to me. Ha haha!
How are things at school? Are the kids still treating you weird? Has anyone actually said anything, and did you say anything back?
My roommate PJ saw that picture that Simon took of us, and she said you’re really pretty. That’s the first nice thing I’ve ever heard her say about anyone besides Bruce Springsteen. Wait’ll you meet her! You’ll see what I mean about what a ditz she is.
Well it’s time to get back to my studying. SEE YOU SOON!
I loved your letter! Thanks for writing! I still don’t have any friends, but I’m sorta glad—I usually didn’t like being around them anyway, and like I told you, when I was with them I acted just like them, and I hated that. No one has said anything to me. They’re mostly ignoring me. I do sort of have one friend. A boy named Zeke. Before you ask, no, he’s not a boyfriend! He moved here over the summer from New Hampshire. We talk a lot. I’m really comfortable around him, but he always seems a little sad. I don’t really know him that well.
Every time I start to get depressed, I think about visiting you and I get excited!!!! I can’t wait to meet your roommate, PJ. Don’t be mad, but I think she sounds nice, and I’m not just saying that because she told you I was pretty. Do you think maybe you don’t like her because she’s so different from you? I used to think you didn’t like me for the same reason. Remember how we were always fighting? I used to be jealous of you, because you were different and you didn’t mind being different. Everyone liked you for who you were.
Everything here is fine. Chicken Slax are still going strong. Simon took me to a couple of their gigs. He said I could design the cover of their first album! Isn’t that great?!?!
Well I think that’s all the news. SEE YOU SOON!!!