• robinstratton23

22. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online


Simon hung up and sighed. He was one of those rare students who had a phone in his room (Grandfather had insisted) and for several minutes he lay on the bed, sulking and replaying Jules’ words: I’m really excited about my play, Simon, isn’t it amazing? Anyway, so some of us are going out on Sunday, a bunch of us, and we’re going to check out a play that’s being put on by a local theatre group, because some of them are going to be in my play. My play! Oh my God, that sounds so cool, doesn’t it? My play? and his response: Wow, Jules, yeah, no, that’s okay, go, have fun.  I’m really proud of you. He wanted to know more, since this was the first he was hearing about it, but she said someone else needed to use the phone and she had to go.


Her voice sounded funny. He couldn’t put his finger on just what it was. But she sounded… giddy. And he had never known Jules to sound giddy. When his roommate Niles came in and asked if he wanted to go out for a beer, Simon nodded. The last thing he wanted to do was stay in and bum out.



It had been an exciting evening, with Tim’s roommate gone for the weekend, and a six-pack of expensive designer beer. Mandy had very little (beer was fattening) but, feeling adventurous, she’d agreed to split a cupcake with Tim in bed and tried not to worry about the crumbs calling ants. When the beer was gone he wanted to have sex again, but she reminded him that they’d used the last condom. Your period ended yesterday, and my second ejaculation won’t be anywhere near as potent, he’d told her, and she, trusting his logic because he was a teacher, sort of reluctantly agreed.


And so it was with a trace of resentment that she reported some five weeks later on their way to the restaurant that she hadn’t gotten her period.


He didn’t answer right away; it was as if it was too impossible for him to even consider. Then he said, “You did the math?”


“Yes. You know me—I’m really regular.”


His stomach clenched up like a sick fist. Shit shit shit, she was right, we shouldn’t have risked it! “Well so… now what?”


“I’ll have to get one of those pregnancy tests,” she said grimly. Pregnant! And single! And jobless! How in the world had this happened to her? She’d always been so impatient with girls who got pregnant before they were ready; In this day and age, she’d think disapprovingly, there’s no excuse! And now… here she was. 


“Just because you’ve never been late doesn’t mean that you’re not late this time. I mean, no woman is one hundred percent regular all the time. Right?”


She shrugged. She’d wanted to have children practically since the day she was born, but not now! Not like this! 


He reached over and took her hand, willing himself to be the guy who said, Whatever you want to do, I’m here. If you want to have the baby, we’ll get married and have it… but the words wouldn’t come. He was still paying back college loans. His teacher’s salary was only enough to share that shitty apartment with Stan. Jesus, what was he going to tell his folks? They weren’t hippies like Mandy’s parents; they were straight-laced, Bible-reading transplants from the Midwest. His mother would shout, This is not how you were raised!  and his father would demand How the hell did this happen? “I’m so sorry, Mandy. This is my fault. I really fucked up.”


She sighed. She was glad he understood that it was his fault; but of course she’d gone along with it, so he wasn’t completely to blame. Anyway, it didn’t matter who pressured who or who gave in too easily—nothing mattered except that they were going to have a baby. He looked so stricken that she took pity on him and said, “Let’s give it a few days. Maybe you’re right. Maybe I’m just late.”


“Okay, let’s give it a few more days. And if it still doesn’t come, we’ll get one of those pregnancy tests.”


“Okay.”


He pulled into the parking lot and shut off the engine, but then they sat in silence for a few minutes. Would she consider getting an abortion? He didn’t dare suggest it. In the news recently had been a story out of Akron, Ohio, about a proposed ordinance to require doctors to give pregnant women anti-abortion literature, impose a 24-hour waiting period, and require that the procedure take place in a hospital, not a clinic. The court denied it, but so many people, including his parents, he was certain, felt that life began at conception, and abortion was murder. He had no idea how Mandy felt. It was not something they’d ever discussed. 


His reaction unnerved her. He’s going to help me, isn’t he? He’s not going to be one of those guys who gets girls pregnant and then disappears, is he? Will I be able to work, or will I have to stay home and take care of it? Maybe I can work at night and Mom and Lisbeth can babysit. “Let’s go in,” she finally said. “I can’t stand sitting here watching you be so devastated.”


He didn’t like the tone of her voice, but knew it was justified. He tried to picture it: moving out of his apartment into a place with her, and getting married. Defensive and sullen, he said, “It’s different for you−your mom was pregnant when she got married. My mom was a virgin.” Then he looked away. Why had he said that? It had nothing to do with anything. Either she was going to have the baby or she wasn’t. 



Zeke started missing school; a day here, two days there. One week he was only in on Friday, and Allie skipped gym and study hall to meet him at the playground. As she slipped into the swing to him, he said, “You don’t hang out with your friends anymore.”


“I don’t like them.”

“Know what?”


“What.”


“They’ve been really nice to me lately. I think because they know I’m going to die soon.”


“Zeke!”


“I told you, it’s okay. I’m okay with it.”


Allie sighed; she never knew what to say when he talked about dying. For a while they all thought Lisbeth would die, but she didn’t. And Zeke was still pretty healthy… when Lisbeth was sick, she didn’t even leave the house. “I think you’re going to be fine,” she said. “I really believe that.” 


He looked at her, and smiled. Then reached out and took her hand. “I’m so glad I met you.”

Allie thought he sounded wise and content, and it made no sense to her at all. But sitting next to him, holding his hand, felt so good. “So… what have my friends been saying to you?”


“They keep saying, How are you? or Do you need any help with anything?


“What do you say?”


“I just say I’m all set. It’s weird. I know they’re just trying to be nice, but… ” He shrugged.


She debated whether or not to tell him the real reason: her friends wanted the attention. Now that everyone knew that Zeke was… sick… they wanted to look like they were all caring and compassionate. Allie was disgusted. A year ago, she’d have done the same thing.


After a moment, he let go of her hand, and resumed swinging. She did too. Neither spoke. It was fun to pretend that they were just a couple of teenagers with their whole lives ahead of them. 



The first time Mandy lied about not wanting to go out, she felt guilty. “I have to work on my resume,” she told Tim over the phone.“ Let’s do something over the weekend, though. Okay?” But his prompt response, “Okay, sure, I’ll give you a call,” infuriated her. She hung up and thought, I’m in this alone. With Mom and my sisters. Well that’s fine. Just fine! 


As for Tim, after hanging up, he took a beer from the refrigerator, plopped on the couch, and tried to watch TV. What a relief, that she didn’t want to go out! He had searched deep within his soul, and there was not one single thing in there—not one single thing—that wanted to have a baby right now. Back and forth he wrestled with the question, Should I be honest, or should I lie? One thing about being the guy in this situation—suggesting an abortion, man, that was not an option. Which seemed a little unfair, given how much impact a kid would have on his life; to have to accept that it was all her decision was a little annoying. Then he remembered how it was his fault and how nice she’d been not to blame him, and instead of coming up with an answer, he just kept drinking beer until he passed out. 



Jules was dismayed to see that Lillith was not only in Pippin—she had, of course, snagged the part of Catherine, and was ridiculously sexy in her renaissance costume with the tight waist and small breasts peeking plumply out of the low-cut bodice. For the whole second act, Jules kept glancing at Michael to see how he was reacting; but mostly what he did was grin and move his lips with the singing and even the dialogue. Once he looked back at her, and raised his eyebrows as if to say, Do you like it? and she nodded. She probably would have enjoyed it had she not been so hyper-vigilant for signs that he was still in love with Lillith. Her thoughts were running rampant: If PJ hadn’t told me about him and Lillith, I never would have guessed. That must be a good sign… that he doesn’t seem interested in her in that way anymore. But what about PJ? She said she likes him. And she’s so gorgeous. I better not have him come over again—he might fall in love with her. Maybe he already has! Ugh, I don’t have a chance with him! She held back a sigh. Then thought, If all he cares about is the way a girl looks, then that’s pretty shallow. If he doesn’t care about how dumb she is… he must be an idiot. He must be the world’s biggest idiot. She was suddenly aware of applause, and realized the show had ended. Clapping enthusiastically, she turned to him.


“Wow, it was great, wasn’t it?” He had to raise his voice to be heard.


“Yes, great!”


He stood, still clapping. Jules looked around and saw that everyone was standing. The cast came back on stage, and the applause grew louder. Standing too, all she could think was how stupid and insane she was being. A great show, and she missed practically the whole thing agonizing over whether or not Michael still had feelings for Lillith. I can’t believe myself, I can’t believe how stupid I’m acting!


“We’re just going to stop backstage and say hello, and then we’ll go out and have something to eat. Okay?”


She nodded; had forgotten that a bunch of kids from the drama society had come with them. His eyes are so gorgeous. And I love his hair. I hate this!


She managed to congratulate Lillith with the others, and after minimal discussion, they agreed to go to the Willow Street Diner. Over several pizzas, they talked about the show. Jules listened but didn’t feel qualified to contribute. Mostly she watched Michael, unabashedly fascinated by every gesture and every word. He always looked a little drowsy, rubbing his eyes, then resting his chin in one cupped palm. Jules thought that he looked… spent. Like he’d just recently emerged on this side of a bout of intense suffering. Maybe he loved and lost… no, probably something more cerebral. Probably he’s devoted years to pondering the meaning of his existence. Fighting off the ever-growing fear that his life is an abyss. Of course! And now he needs someone to… “What?”


“I said, What did you think of Lillith’s performance?”


Jules didn’t know how to answer. She knew Lillith was great, but she didn’t want to be too enthusiastic because she didn’t think she could stand hearing him agree. On the other hand, she didn’t want to criticize Lillith and have him defend her. Several moments passed before she made her response, during which time all eyes turned to her and waited with respect and anticipation. Unfortunately, the pause before her answer gave it a loftiness it did not warrant: “Um, she was good.”


The eyes lingered, awaiting elaboration. When none came, they turned away. Roasting in humiliation, Jules stared into her coffee. What a brilliantly insightful review! Maybe I should get my own show!


“Well, what did you like about it?” Michael probed.


Think! Think! “Well… she was very convincing. I was a little surprised that she could pull it off. I mean, Catherine is so wholesome and Lillith is so… oops!” she covered her mouth, awkward and embarrassed.


But Michael laughed heartily. “My thoughts exactly! Lillith is so self-absorbed. When I heard she was going to play Catherine, I thought No way! But she was so warm and sweet.” He sipped his diet Coke. “Too bad she isn’t like that in real life.”


“Too bad,” Jules agreed happily.



When her period finally arrived, Mandy expected to be flooded with relief. She’d been hoping so hard that it would happen, and had even planned her reaction: fly to the phone, blurt out the news to Tim, and laugh and laugh. Then make plans to go out and celebrate—with a condom. 


But when the cramps came and she hurried into the bathroom and saw the blood, her heart felt squeezed up and sad. Like she’d lost something precious. 



“We never see you anymore,” Nathaniel complained one afternoon. They were at the library studying; that is, Charles, Dawn, and Nathaniel were. Jules was thinking about Michael.


“Oh well, you know,” she said evasively, and pretended to be occupied with homework. Math. Her worst subject. Even though she was taking the most fundamental course the college offered, her grades were low. Secretly she maintained the belief that the reason she stunk so bad in math was because she was too intellectually evolved for it to make sense to her. She was literally too smart. To Dawn she announced beseechingly, “I just don’t get it.”


Dawn, who was trudging irritably through Kafka’s Metamorphosis, and who only moments before had demanded, “How the hell can someone turn into a bug over night?” looked up. “What is it?”


“Venn diagrams.”


“Oh Jesus, that’s so easy.” Eagerly she reached for Jules’ textbook. “If the members of set A are 1, 2, and 3, and the members of set B are 1 and 2, then B is a subset of A. Okay. So a Venn diagram is two circles… intersecting each other… like this… see? Set A and set B. Okay?”


Jules nodded. Could I be in love? It that what this is? This constant state of… anguish and analysis and uncertainty? I hate it!


“…So to illustration the union of A and B… where they intersect… we shade that area…. ” with a pencil, she did it.


“Uh huh.” I can’t read his signals. He spends a lot of time with me, not just during rehearsals, but afterwards. He obviously respects my opinion. He’s always saying I have a genius for dialogue…


“…So this shaded area here… see? Okay, so you wonder, why is this useful? Here’s kind of a classic example of how we use them: if set A represents whales, we write facts about whales… have hair… give birth to live offspring… breathe air. And if set B represents fish, we would write lay eggs… have scales… breathe water. Now in this middle section, we put in stuff that’s true about both whales and fish… live in water… have fins… can swim. See?”


“Yeah.” On the other hand, it’s not like he ever sits and gazes at me. He never puts his arm around me, or tries to hold my hand or anything. This is so impossible!


“This is so easy.”


“Thanks.” Jules reclaimed her book and looked at Dawn’s drawing. 


“You’re welcome. Hey, didn’t you say your kid sister is visiting this weekend?”


“Yes.”


“Bring her by, let’s get a look at her.”


“Okay.” Suddenly it hit Jules: Of course! Allie is an expert on boys! She can tell me what’s going through his mind!

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© 2019 by Robin Stratton