21. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Jan 29
SIMON PULLED UP to the dorm. “Got time for pizza or something?” he asked hopefully.
But Jules already had her door open. “Can’t. Have to get ready for class tomorrow.”
“What do you have to do?”
“Unpack and stuff.”
“That’ll take like, one second.” Simon’s own studies were spectacularly uninteresting, and lately he’d developed a bad habit of not exactly making it to all his classes, particularly those that met before noon. When she didn’t respond, he said, “Call me?”
He sounded so forlorn that she felt guilty. “Okay. Maybe we can do something on Sunday.”
“That would be great! Dinner or something.”
“I’ll call you. Thanks for the ride!”
Her kiss, quick on his cheek, was distinctly obligatory. With a pang, he watched her scoop up her laundry tote, backpack, and purse, and with a final wave, she disappeared into the dorm.
The note on her door said We’re in Charles’ room. Happily, she dumped her stuff on the bed and ran down the hall, then took the stairs two at a time. “C’mon in!” was Charles’ response to her knock, and when she opened the door and saw them, she realized how much she’d missed them. Greetings and small talk were minimal as Nathaniel quickly filled her in on the current discussion of whether or not to submit an article to The Student News.
“Dawn and I want to,” he said. “But Charles thinks it’s a waste of time.”
“I said that anyone intelligent enough to understand our opinion wouldn’t be caught dead reading The Stupid News,” Charles clarified.
“And I think it’s worth a shot,” Dawn put in. “What do you think?”
Jules sat on the bed next to Nathaniel. “What would the article be about?”
“How we hate The Stupid News,” Nathaniel said. “We want to suggest they print some more worthwhile articles. The shit they publish belongs in a can by the curb.”
“Which is what most of the students here are into. Look at this.” Dawn held up the January 1993 issue. “You’ve got your headlines: Dean Howard turns 77…Andrews Hall Gets a Face Lift…a couple of cartoons by some of the students…hmm, I don’t even get this one.” She showed it to Charles who squinted at it and shrugged. “Some editorials—one about cleaning the area behind the library, and one about getting new uniforms for the football team. We’ve got an entertainment section with reviews…here’s an article about soap operas. Oh, they took a poll to see who thinks Luke and Laura will be happy…eighty-eight percent think they will.”
“Who the hell are Luke and Laura?” Jules demanded, even though she knew; Mandy had been addicted to General Hospital before entering the working world. When they didn’t answer, she said, “We should start our own paper.”
“No one would read it.” Charles leaned back in his chair and rested his feet on Dawn’s lap without asking permission. She put down the newspaper and took off his sneakers to give him a massage.
“That shouldn’t matter,” Jules said, reaching for the paper to see if Dawn had been kidding about the Luke and Laura poll. “We shouldn’t be writing for the masses, we should be writing for…” then an ad caught her eye: The drama club is looking for an original one or two act play for our spring production. Make submissions to Michael Green, Madison Dorm, Room 201. Her brain started to buzz. He’s right upstairs from me! I could give him my play! Should I? She glanced up guiltily, aware that she’d break her group’s rule of arrogance if she submitted something. But they weren’t looking at her; they were joking about features their paper would include.
“A series of articles about how certain sit-coms destroy brain cells,” Nathaniel said. “A hundred volunteers were subjected to less than one hour of Three’s Company before a significant number of them suffered loss of intelligence, as indicated by declining scores on a simple test.”
They’d only need a few sets…a factory, an office…they’d have to stage an earthquake, but how hard would that be?
“What we could do is find out which sit-com causes the most brain damage the fastest,” Charles said. “And maybe not just sit-coms…what about Starsky & Hutch or Magnum P.I.?”
And there’s just the right number of characters—not so many that you can’t keep track of them, but enough to give a lot of students parts… “What?”
“I said, you have a funny look on your face,” Dawn said. “Like you were reading something interesting.”
“No! No. Um, hey, I should go unpack. See you guys later!”
Temporary Sanity was in a folder in a box under her bed. She pulled it out and read Professor Griggs’ comments again, and thought, The idea is kind of out there. They probably won’t get it. They would probably rather have some stupid predictable love story. But then she decided to just do it, and headed out.
In the hall she bumped into PJ and her two “besties,” Molly and Ellen. PJ was delighted to see her and surprised her with a quick hug. She wanted to hear all about Jules’ vacation, and inquired after all her sisters by name.
“Hey, so, Jules,” she added, “we want to ask you something.”
Jules frowned. Here we go. I knew it was just a matter of time before one of them needed my help with a paper. “What.”
“Which girl on Eight is Enough did you like best? I liked Nancy, Ellen liked Joanie, and Molly liked Susan.”
“I liked Nancy’s hair,” Molly said. “But sometimes I liked Joanie best, too.”
“I didn’t like Nancy because she was so vain. But she got kind of smart near the end. When she refused to pose for that magazine because the photographer wanted her to take off her shirt.”
“Wait,” Jules said, “that’s your question?”
“Which girl I like best on some stupid TV show?”
“I liked Elizabeth’s hair too, but not when she wore it in a bun.”
“She only did that in dance class.”
Jules didn’t answer. Her favorite had been Mary, the eldest daughter who was so passionate about her schoolwork and who never got into trouble except the time she moved in with a boy her father didn’t approve of. But ridiculous, the way all the Bradford kids could effortlessly gather in the living room whenever there was a crisis. No one was ever at the supermarket or in the bathroom. Worst of all was watching them get married. The husbands seemed so contrived. And that double wedding—how corny! “I have to go,” she said impatiently.
She went up the stairs, hoping that no one would be in Room 111 and that she could just slip it under the door. But when she arrived, the room was bursting with students. Pausing at the door, she listened in and tried to get the gist of the conversation:
“I don’t care how meaningful it is. If it’s not natural then it’s not convincing and I won’t do it,” one intense-looking girl announced. She was striking in the way theatre types sometimes are, with just a sliver of a body, pale, curly blonde hair, and expressive green eyes. Jules guessed from the way they were all nodding respectfully that she probably copped most of the female leads.
“But Lillith, the dialogue is an intricate part of the plot, and we have to remain faithful to the script’s integrity,” argued a boy with long hair down past his shoulders.
“Yeah, Lillith, if you’re true to your craft, you should be able to pull it off, no matter how bad it is,” added a red-headed girl perched on the windowsill.
“Bottom line: if it’s bad, we don’t want it.” For the first time Jules noticed a guy with shaggy black hair and dark-rimmed glasses. Seated at the room’s desk, he seemed to be in charge. “We all have to agree on the play, that’s what we decided. But let’s not knock ourselves out finding fault with every single one. We’re running out of time. Let’s go through them all again, keeping in mind: there are no perfect plays, only perfect performances. And don’t forget, hopefully more scripts will be coming in.” As he said this, he saw Jules standing in the doorway. “Ah, maybe here’s the winner. Come on in.”
When his eyes met hers, something inside Jules went zing! and for a moment she couldn’t move. All she could think was Oh my god! Oh my god! It took all her strength to look away, to glance at the actors in the room, to appear casual. “Um. Yes. I mean, I have a script.”
“Let’s see.” He stood and reached for it. Their eyes met again. Jules’ heart trembled. Do I know him? Have we met? What’s going on? She could hardly breathe as she handed him the folder.
He opened it. “Temporary Sanity. I like it already. What’s it about?”
“Um…an earthquake in a factory.”
“Cast of characters?”
“Mostly girls. Women, I mean. Girls and women.”
“Good. We have mostly girls. And guys who like to dress as girls.”
Everyone laughed. Jules felt dizzy; the room was so hot all of a sudden. “Look it over and let me know,” she said, suddenly anxious to leave.
“Hey, wait…what’s your name and where are you?”
“Jules April. I’m in 111.”
“Hi.” After all this conversation, I’m saying Hi!
He sounded amused. “Hi.”
She turned and hurried out, and heard him call after her, “Okay, Jules, I’ll stop by later and let you know!”
“So how come you never eat lunch?” Zeke asked. It was really too cold to be at the playground, but they met there a lot, and sat on the swings.
Allie shrugged. “I used to love eating. When I was a kid.”
“When you were a kid.” He laughed and shook his head. “What are you now?”
“I’m fifteen! You know what I mean.”
He stopped swinging and regarded her seriously. “You’re not trying to lose weight, are you? Because you’re too thin. You should put weight on.”
She stopped too. His criticism brought tears to her eyes. She’d never been told she was too thin, but since it was an insult, she took no delight in it. Lowering her head, she said, “Mind your own business, Zeke. How come you don’t ever eat lunch? You’re wicked thin. You look like you’re sick.”
“I am sick,” he said. “I have bone cancer. That’s why we moved to Massachusetts—the hospitals are better here.”
“Oh! Will you…will you be okay?”
“No.” His tone was matter of fact. “The doctors were hoping they could get rid of it with chemo, but it kept coming back. And I kept having to go on chemo. That’s why my teeth are so bad, you know…I puked all the time, for two years, and the acid ruined the enamel.”
“And my hair is short because it kept falling out. So since the chemo wasn’t helping me, I decided not to have it anymore.” He resumed swinging. “Haven’t you noticed I hardly go to class?”
“You’re always in the class we have together…”
“Yeah, because you’re there. The other classes, I skip. I just come out here.” He added quietly, “I come out here and sit and hope you’ll show up.”
Allie couldn’t think of one thing to say, not one single thing.
“Sorry,” he said, “it’s a lot to dump on you.”
“But…are you sure that…I mean, maybe if you go on chemo one more time…? My sister had chemo and she’s fine now.”
“That’s what I thought the first time. Then the second time. And the third time. It just keeps coming back, Allie. When I saw the doctor last week, he told me I have three months; four, tops.”
“It’s okay. I’m not scared. I was at first. I just feel bad for my parents.”
Allie opened her mouth to say something comforting, but then heard herself blurt out, “I finally found a best friend and he’s dying!” She clamped her hand over her mouth. I am so horrible! I only ever think of myself!
But to her surprise, his face brightened. “I’m your best friend?”
She nodded. Suddenly she was crying. He slipped out of his swing and stood in front of her.
“Allie…” When she cried harder, covering her face and sobbing, he leaned over and put his hands on her thighs. “Allie…it’s okay.”
“No it’s not!” She shook her head. Then she took his hands in hers and held tight. “Please, can’t you…the doctors saved my sister… maybe if you tried one more time…”
He stood and pulled her to her feet. For a long time they stood together, shivering in the cold.
Jules didn’t expect to hear from Michael for a while and was surprised when he showed up at her door the next evening.
“Congratulations,” he greeted her.
She couldn’t speak. That hot, awkward blushing! That thumping in her chest! Was she going to faint? “Really?” she asked finally.
“Can I come in?”
She stepped aside, delirious at his proximity, and as he glanced around, she tried to imagine what her room looked like to him: her desk, dresser and bed all piled with books, the picture of Thoreau tucked into her mirror, and the typewriter sitting on the floor…PJ’s side with its frilly pink lace bedspread, and bottles and jars of makeup and perfume covering her dresser, and Bruce’s face hovering over her bed.
“Temporary Sanity is a great story. We all got a big kick out of it, we all liked it the best. When did you write it?”
“Last semester.” She wanted to invite him to have a seat, but couldn’t come up with the words, so he remained standing as she began to babble: “I worked in a vitamin factor and that’s how the women really talked. I used to take a pad of paper into the ladies room and write down their actual dialogue while it was fresh in my mind. So a lot of it is word for word.”
“No wonder it’s so convincing! Did you see yourself as Kimmie, the temp?”
“Yeah, I sort of used her as a mouthpiece for my thoughts. But I never said anything to them about not being so catty. I wanted to keep gathering material.”
Michael’s eyes inventoried the room, lingering on her poster of Jack Kerouac, then went back to her. “Want to come to rehearsals? This is our first original production. It would be cool to have the playwright on the set.”
Playwright on the set! “That would be great!”
“Okay. We meet at least three evenings a week—more as we get closer to show time. For some of us, acting is more important than our grades, and we spend more time on stage than in the classroom. We’re getting together tonight at 7:30. For tryouts.”
“Okay, great!” Stop saying great!
“You can get as involved as you want. I mean, you don’t have to do anything, you already did your part, writing the thing,” Michael grinned easily. “But we’d welcome any suggestions you have.”
Jules’ heart was slamming so hard against her ribs that she abandoned the idea of inviting him to sit; in fact, she couldn’t wait for him to leave, so she could collapse. What was it about him? Not so much his looks—he was average height and build, and his hair looked like he’d cut it himself with dull scissors in the dark. But she felt weak all over, simply at the sight of him.
“Well, so we’ll see you tonight.”
“Okay, great.” Just go!
But he hesitated another minute. “Guess you read a lot.”
“I don’t read many books, just scripts. Don’t have a lot of time.”
“Yeah.” If you don’t leave right now my heart is going to pop.
“Okay, then…” He paused in the doorway, his hand on the knob.
Last chance! Say something clever! Jules studied her fingers, then looked down at her sneakers.
“Okay, I’ll see you later.”
“Okay.” She couldn’t return his smile; she closed the door behind him, and then listened to his footsteps making their way down the hall. Then she spun around to check her reflection in the mirror, even though she already knew how she looked. Stupid ponytail! Furiously she pulled her hair out of the rubber band, tried to smooth it down, and then tried to fluff it up. Stupid sweatshirt!
She dropped onto her bed. Her mind was buzzing with what she should have said: Oh hi…Michael, was it? Glad you like the play. It’ll be fun to work together. Clearing her throat, she practiced out loud: “Hi, Michael. What? Oh, thanks, that’s nice of you.” Then for the first time in her whole life, she thought, Oh my god, what am I going to wear tonight?
The Boston Globe offered pages and pages of potential employment. Nearby, a yellow highlighter awaited its first circling assignment. There was a pad of paper bearing the headings COMPANY, CONTACT PERSON and PHONE NUMBER and an uncapped pen. A cup of coffee stood by, prepared to battle lethargy or soothe rattled nerves. Mandy leaned forward, alert and focused. “So your first time didn’t hurt?”
“A little.” Lisbeth’s giggle was self-conscious; nevertheless, she elaborated generously, “I was sure it would when I saw how…big he was. But he was so gentle.”
“Tim was too. He was kissing me all over and he kept saying he couldn’t believe how beautiful and sexy I was.” Mandy couldn’t suppress a rapturous sigh. It was a delicious conversation; the discovery of each other’s non-virgin status having taken them both by surprise. “Even though our first time was great, it keeps getting better.”
“I know.” Lisbeth sipped her coffee. “We like to…” she stopped when the back door opened, and Allie came in. Seeing Allie’s expression, she asked, “Are you okay?”
Allie hesitated; despite the newspaper, the highlighter, and the coffee, it was obvious to her that Lisbeth and Mandy were talking about Tim and Kevin. So obnoxious, Jules would have said. Allie felt a pang; wondered what it would be like to be in love…and then thought of Zeke, who would die before he found out. She almost told them about him, but they were too happy, and their happiness made her feel sad and lonely. “I’m fine,” she said, and headed into her room to finish up crying.
Jules had dinner with Charles, Dawn and Nathaniel, and being with them restored her sense of cool rationality. It doesn’t matter what I wear or how I act when I see Michael. He’s either going to like me or not like me, clothes aren’t going to make me into someone I’m not. And who does he think he is, anyway, wanting me to be someone I’m not? I’m not going to change just to get him to like someone who doesn’t even exist!
So she wore the ponytail and the sloppy sweatshirt. When she arrived at the auditorium, she saw about a dozen kids there—laughing, practicing harmonies, even executing ballet turns. Someone was sitting at a piano, working out a tune. She loved the energy right away; it reminded her of the movie Fame, which she and Simon had rented on VHS twice, and then she’d rented it a third time to watch with Mom and her sisters. After a few seconds, she began to recognize some of the students: the girl from her philosophy class who asked too many questions…a couple of kids she’d seen on campus…and of course, Lillith, who was dressed in a bright pink leotard, black tights, knit leg warmers, and a bulky sweater, and her hair was pulled back in a clip. She felt a rush of panic when she didn’t see Michael, but then she felt a tap on her shoulder, and she turned and there he was.
“Good, you came. We haven’t started yet. Obviously! Let’s talk.” He took her arm and pulled her toward the back of the room, away from the stage. “Most of the girls want to play Kimmie, but I see Lillith in the part of Jan, don’t you? She has that snotty thing going for her.”
Jules looked at Lillith again, admiring her profile, her jawline, her cheekbones, her protruding shoulder blades, her tiny ass. “Yeah, she’d be a great Jan.”
“I’ll try to discourage her from trying out for Kimmie. See that guy there, with the Red Sox t-shirt? That’s Jason. He thinks he’ll be a good fit for Pat. I do too. Do you?”
Now he pointed to a girl near the door who was thin and boyish, with straight, unremarkable brown hair, “That’s Meghan. I think she’d be a perfect Brenda.”
Jules kept nodding as he kept telling her who he thought was right for each part. Then he started telling her about some ideas he had for the actual production and direction. Jules tried to listen but couldn’t focus on his words. He had a creative drive that was irresistible.
“So I guess we should get started,” he announced. “Have a seat. I’ll get these guys organized, and then we’ll figure out where to go from here. Okay?”
Jules sat and watched hungrily as he climbed on stage, referred to his clipboard, and said loudly, “Okay, let’s get rolling! But first…say hello to Jules April, our playwright.”
There were excited murmurs. Embarrassed, Jules ducked her head.
“Okay,” Michael went on, “you’ve all read the play, and I assume you’ve all got someone in mind that you’re auditioning for. So everyone trying out for Kimmie, let’s start with you.”
Sure enough, Lillith glided over with the girls who were hoping to play Kimmie. Michael, slipping into the seat next to Jules, nudged her and rolled his eyes. “Told ya,” he whispered.
One by one, each girl recited the scene where Kimmie the temp confronts the factory workers with their particular cruelty. Jules was fascinated at the spectrum of interpretations each actress displayed: some portrayed her as full of fire, while others saw her as soft spoken and wise. And to her shock, Lillith transformed into the girl Jules pictured being Kimmie; she assumed a demure attitude but had a sense of non-nonsense pragmatism that Jules thought worked really well. But when she looked at Michael, he shook his head. With his pen he tapped his notes, and Jules saw that he’d written Lillith to be Jan NO MATTER WHAT SHE SAYS OR DOES!!!
When the last of the would-be Kimmies were done, Michael said, “Thanks, everyone. Take five.” Then he turned to Jules. “Well?”
“I liked the girl with the braid the best.”
“She seemed the most genuine. She’s not glamorous. I don’t think of Kimmie as being fussy about her looks.”
“Me either. Kathleen is great. She played Joe Hardy’s wife in our production of Damn Yankees last semester. She has a sweetness. She’s my first choice for Kimmie, too.”
Jules was thrilled that he agreed with her, and feeling more comfortable, she watched the rest of the tryouts, making comments on things she liked and things she didn’t. When he asked Lillith to audition for Jan, there was no question that she was perfect. “It’s like you wrote the part for her,” he whispered, and Jules whispered back, “Wow.”
“She’s the best actress I’ve ever worked with.” To the group he said, “Okay, the part of Jan is filled.”
“I want to play Kimmie,” Lillith protested.
“You’d play everyone, if you had your way,” one girl said, and another girl added, “She has played everyone,” and most of the kids laughed. Lillith scowled.
“You’re Jan,” Michael said, and after a second, Lillith said, “Okay.”
Tryouts continued, and at a little after 11:00, all the parts were filled. Michael stood, quieted everyone down, and announced his selections. There were shouts of triumph and sighs of disappointment.
“That’s it for tonight. Those who didn’t get a part—as you know, we always need help with the sets. The rest of you—be here tomorrow at 7:00.”
The new stars of the play, grinning like lottery winners, lingered. Those who had not gotten a part grabbed their coats and left. Michael suggested that everyone read the script again, then said, “You hungry?”
Jules didn’t realize he was talking to her, because he was reviewing the notes he’d been making all evening. When she didn’t answer, he looked up. “Jules?”
“Want to grab something to eat? I missed dinner because I was reading the script again.”
“Willow Street Diner?”
“Okay.” Ugh, stop saying “Okay!”
“We can talk about the play some more—I have some cool ideas.”
But they didn’t talk about the play. Over grilled cheese sandwiches, Michael told her he was a communications major with plans to start his own advertising agency. “But only because being in the theatre doesn’t pay. I’d like to work my ass off for a few years, save up a shitload of money, and then start my own theatre.”
Jules hoped her face didn’t betray her feelings as she listened to him. He was so cute! And so passionate! If only I knew what he thinks of me. If only I’d paid attention to those conversations Mandy and Allie used to have, about how to tell if a guy is interested!
“What about you, Jules. What do you want to do?”
“Win a Pulitzer before I’m 30.”
“Too bad you’re not very ambitious,” he teased. “But that’s a tough field…having to deal with rejection slips. Not that you’ll get any, I mean.”
“I may.” Jules shrugged carelessly; pictured instead a future full of acceptances and publishing deals. “They say that Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was turned down, like, 26 times or something. And he wound up winning the Nobel Prize for literature.”
Michael didn’t say anything as he digested this relatively useless piece of information. During the silence, Jules tried to recall even a scrap of Allie’s advice: Is it good if he looks you in the eye, or bad? How do I know if he thinks I’m fascinating, or just a friend? He’s so comfortable. He must not be attracted to me or he’d be shy and awkward. The way I am.
“Hey, Jules. I have a real busy schedule, but would you like to go out sometime?”
Jules felt her face light up; it was a cliché, but there was no other way to describe it. “Okay! When?”
“What are you doing Sunday? A couple of kids in the drama society belong to a local theatre group too, and they’re doing Pippin.”
Sunday…Simon. Jules battled her conscience. Am I going to be one of those girls who ditches her friends for some guy? And not just any friend…my best friend who’s in love with me. “I might have plans,” she said reluctantly. “But maybe I can get out of them.”
“It’s not a big deal if you can’t.”
“No, I mean, I’m sure I can go with you! I just have to…make a call.”
“Sounds good.” Michael gestured to the waitress, who came over with their check. He looked it over, then pulled a ten-dollar bill out of his wallet. “Greasy food cheap,” he said. “I practically lived here last year.”
It was freezing cold, so they hurried back to the dorm. He walked her to her room, and now they were talking about the play. He was saying, “…will need to figure out how to create an earthquake…” when Jules saw that the door was open. Shit. Inside, PJ and her friends were sitting on the bed; they looked up and PJ did a classic double take when she saw Michael.
“Michael, this is my roommate PJ, and her friends Molly and Ellen.”
“I know Michael—he’s in my poly sci class,” PJ said. She was wearing a pink robe that made her look girlish and cozy, and her hair was tied back with a lace ribbon. Here we go, Jules thought. Michael is going to fall in love with her and forget all about me!
But Michael said, “Hi. Sorry, I don’t recognize you.”
“You sit up front. I sit in back. When I go.” PJ giggled. “I hate that class.”
His gaze went up to the Bruce Springsteen poster.
“You like him?” Molly asked hopefully.
“I don’t know—what show was he in?” He and Jules laughed, and then he said, “Okay, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Michael waved at the girls on the bed and walked out. Jules closed the door behind him, and instantly PJ leapt up and grabbed her arm and babbled in a voice so hysterical that Jules almost couldn’t make out the words: “Oh my god oh my god! You were out with Michael Green? I’m going to die! How did you do it?”
Jules was so startled by PJ’s reaction that she couldn’t think straight. “We didn’t do it, we just had grilled cheese sandwiches.”
“I’ve been in love with him since last semester! He’s so sexy! Are you two…you know, going out?”
Jules tried to sound nonchalant. “He’s directing my play. Plus, he probably already has a girlfriend.”
“He doesn’t? I mean, how do you know?”
“I asked around, Silly! He was dating someone last year. Someone in the drama society.”
With a sick feeling, Jules asked, “Who?”
“Her name was Lillith.”