23. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Allie stepped off the train, squinting in the glare of a new spring’s sun. Her fellow passengers, including the middle-aged orthodontist whose dental discourse she’d endured for the second half of the trip, disembarked swiftly and headed off to their weekend destination. She scanned each unfamiliar face waiting at the station, then saw with relief the figure hurrying toward her.
During the moment it took Jules to cross the twenty feet separating them, Allie detected an astonishing change in her sister: Her hair wasn’t in a ponytail! Her blue oxford shirt looked as if it had been ironed—was that possible? and her black sweater had shoulder pads. Shoulder pads! Then she and Jules were holding each other tight.
“I’m so glad you’re here!”
They pulled apart. “Look at you!” Jules couldn’t keep the admiration out of her voice. Allie’s tight white t-shirt was tucked into black jeans, and on the lapel of her fuchsia blazer was a pin of a lady’s head resplendent in a diamond-studded necklace and feathered hat. Enchanted, Jules tapped it. “Where did you get this?”
“Made it in class.” Allie set down her suitcase. “Your hair looks so pretty.”
“You made this?”
“It’s nothing great. I love your sweater, too. It looks really good on you.”
“Thanks.” Jules picked up the suitcase, and with a grin, pretended to stagger under the weight. “What’s in here, bricks?”
“Clothes and makeup. Jules, you’re like… glowing.”
“Well, you know… I love it here. The academic surroundings and all.” Jules started to walk.
“Uh huh.” Something’s up.
“We’ll drop your stuff at my dorm. Then I’ll bring you by to meet my friends.”
Jules’ paced quickened. Allie, trotting alongside her, initiated small talk—the rest of the family was fine, she liked her art classes, she was working with pastels.
“How is Zeke?”
Allie’s expression turned sad. “He missed all last week. And he was only in one day this week. And then he didn’t even go to many classes. I… ” she hesitated, took a deep breath. “I didn’t either. I mean, I skipped all my classes, too, and sat on the swings in the playground with him.”
As soon as Jules blurted out, “You skipped classes?” she knew it was the wrong thing to say. Right away, she put her arm around her sister and amended, “It must be really hard to watch. Him being so sick, I mean.”
Allie, caught in the crossfire between hope and reality, didn’t answer. This is my weekend away from everything. I’m going to have fun. “So how’s the play coming?”
Allie had expected more details. “Must keep you busy,” she prompted.
They crossed the street, then walked through a neighborhood. “Must be cool, to be at the rehearsals.”
“Do you like the—”
“Here we are!” Jules interrupted.
Allie stopped and looked around the quaint New England campus: barren trees fuzzy with new buds lined the sidewalks, students walked by, engaged in scholastic discussion; some were smoking, and Allie marveled at the ease with which they flicked the butts across the frozen ground.
“Wait’ll you see the library—it’s huge!”
“It must be so fun to live in a dorm!”
“It is! Except for my roommate.”
“I can’t wait to see the art gallery. You’re so lucky to be in college! It must be a blast! You can do whatever you want… you don’t even have to go to class if you don’t want to.”
“Well…” Jules frowned, “you might as well go, since you paid for the course. There’s no point in not going. PJ skips a lot.”
Allie followed Jules across the parking lot and into the dorm. Living away from home seemed so exciting. She started to say, “I can’t wait to go to college…” when Jules stopped at the door to her room and jiggled the knob.
“Locked,” she reported. “Good. That means PJ is out.” She set down Allie’s suitcase, took a key out of her pocket and let them in. “I wish I had a single, but they’re reserved for seniors.”
Naturally the first thing Allie saw was PJ’s gigantic Springsteen poster. “Wow.”
“I’m so sick of him I could puke.”
“I think he’s hot.”
“Want to see the library?”
“What about the art gallery?”
“Okay. A lot of stuff stinks. Or maybe I just don’t understand it.”
Off they went, with Jules pointing out the buildings along the way. She said the only thing that bugged her was the name of the bookstore. “It’s the Campus Cave,” she said, “only it’s spelled with K’s. Kampus Kave. For no reason! I could see if one of the words started with a K and they wanted them to match, but they both start with C… so what’s up with that?”
Allie said, “Huh,” and followed Jules into the Student Union building, down the hall, to the art gallery. Together they admired some of the real lifes, but like Jules, Allie saw no use for art that was too esoteric to be understood, particularly the one that was a huge white canvas with a single feeble green line on it, titled Tomorrow. Jules pointed out her favorite—a colorful landscape—and Allie said probably the reason she liked it was because it was based on an impressionistic painting by Monet. She called Jules’ attention to a portrait, and explained that lots of art students practiced their craft by copying works of masters, this one being based on one of Rembrandt’s self-portraits. “It’s a good way to develop technique, but it can keep you from developing your own style. You get locked into the look of whoever you’re copying… Monet’s colors, Rembrandt’s strokes, whatever.”
“Same with literature,” Jules nodded. “Whenever I read Dostoyevsky, I want to write about emotions and motives; but when I read Jack Kerouac, I want to ditch all the elegant phrases and use the word said a lot.”
Allie was inclined to linger, but Jules suggested they go see where Temporary Sanity would be performed. Once again, Allie allowed herself to be led down hallways, past students, until they reached a large, silent auditorium.
“Isn’t this the coolest?” Jules eyes darted around the room. Half of her hoped that Michael would be there; the other half was reluctant to fall under his spell in front of Allie. She was mostly relieved that the auditorium was deserted. Dashing onto the stage she sang, “The littlest worm… I ever saw… was stuck inside… my soda straw! She gestured at Allie. “Come on!”
Allie sighed, but joined her on stage and accompanied her for round two, which was the same lyrics but faster: “The littlest worm I ever saw… was stuck inside my soda straw….”
They were surprised by the sound of clapping from backstage, and with a sinking feeling Jules turned around and saw Michael. She caught her breath as he came up to them, grinning. Allie was started, first by the clapping, then by Jules’ reaction. And then it all made sense. Jules is hot for him!
“This must be Allie,” Michael said. When Jules didn’t respond, he said, “Hi. I’m Michael.”
“The guy who’s directing Jules’ play?”
“Yup. Going to be great. Our first original!”
Allie nodded, but her eyes were on Jules.
“Hey, what was that song you guys were singing? It sounded familiar. Is it from a show?”
“No,” Allie answered when Jules maintained her silence. “It’s a song we used to sing when we were kids.”
Jules’ thoughts turned gloomy. Why didn’t I see this coming? He’s going to fall in love with Allie! Why does she have to be so adorable? “I was just… ” she gestured to the air.
“Showing me around,” Allie finished. “She was just showing me around the campus and stuff.”
“Uh huh. Here for the weekend?”
“Maybe we could grab some dinner.” Turning to Jules, Michael said, “We can take her to that diner we always go to.”
Jules’ heart did a flip, abruptly bathed in glorious reassurance. That diner we always go to!
Meanwhile Allie was struggling to keep from laughing. Oh my God! “I love diners,” she said as casually as she could. “The French fries are always so nice and greasy.”
“At this place even the Coke is greasy. Why don’t I stop by your room tomorrow? But if you guys go out, no problem—just leave a note on your door.”
“Okay,” Allie said brightly. “Nice to meet you. We’ll probably see you tomorrow!” She took her sister’s limp hand, led her across the stage, down the steps, and out the door. Then turned on her. “I don’t believe this!”
“It’s that obvious?”
“Tell me what’s going on!”
“Well… ” Jules said as they began to walk, “we’re just friends. I mean, we’re not dating or anything. But I wish we were! He… ” she lowered her voice and giggled self-consciously. “He drives me crazy. If you know what I mean.”
“I know what you mean. So, how does he feel about you?”
“I don’t know.” Jules stopped walking, so Allie did, too. “I was hoping you could… do me a favor.”
“I can’t read guys the way you can… and I was hoping you could watch him and tell me if he… if you can tell if he… ”
“Sure.” Allie was touched and amused. “I’ll watch him.”
PJ was in the room with her friends. She recognized Allie right away and didn’t wait for an introduction. “Hi! I’m wicked glad you’re here! I’m PJ, and this is Ellen and Molly.”
Allie smiled all around. “Hi.”
“This is your sister? She doesn’t look anything like you,” Molly observed.
“Jules looks more like Lisbeth and Mandy—they look like our mom. I look like our dad.”
“I love your pin! Where’d you get it?”
“I made it.”
They squealed, “You made it?” and demanded to know how. Allie shrugged and explained the process—she formed the face out of clay, baked it in the kiln, then painted it and glued fake diamonds and a feather on it. “It’s really easy. Anyone could do it.”
Allie, embarrassed by everyone’s breathless admiration, felt like the woman on that no-bake cheesecake commercial who tries to convince her friends that she didn’t make it from scratch. “Seriously, it’s easy.”
“You like Springsteen?”
“Yeah, he’s cute.”
Three faces lit up. Was he ever!
“Don’t you love his beard?”
“The way he looks in jeans… !”
“Allie and I are headed to the library,” Jules interrupted peevishly.
“Oh.” PJ didn’t bother to conceal her disappointment. Then her face brightened. “Why don’t you go to the library and leave Allie here? We’ll take care of her.”
Allie looked over hopefully, but Jules was shaking her head. “If she doesn’t want to go to the library, we can go see my friends.”
Allie sensed a change in the mood of the room. PJ’s smile was sympathetic; Molly’s voice sounded subdued as she said, “That’ll be fun,” and Ellen was regarding her with pity.
“Maybe just the library for now,” Allie said.
“Or we can do both!” Jules headed out with a reluctant Allie trailing her.
Jules raised her fist, knocked sharply, then opened the door when she heard Charles call, “C’mon in!” She grinned at the sight: Charles seated at his desk, Dawn perched on the window sill, and Nathaniel lounging in the room’s only comfortable chair. Proudly, she presented Allie, who smiled nervously.
“Hi,” Charles and Nathaniel said together, and at the same time Dawn said, “This is your sister? She doesn’t look anything like you.”
“She looks like my dad. Lisbeth and Mandy and I look like—”
“Really, that’s fascinating,” Charles interrupted. “Our discussion about altruism versus egoism pales by comparison.”
“Jules, help us convince him that some form of altruism is necessary in order to maintain a stable society,” Nathaniel said.
“Ah ha, in which case it isn’t altruism,” Charles’ upraised finger stabbed the air theatrically as if he spoke before a large eager crowd, “but merely a totalitarian-based self-interest. Jules, tell them.”
“As we both know, I rarely agree with you,” Jules said, sitting on the bed and making Allie sit next to her, “however, this discussion reminds me of Levin’s revelation at the end of Anna Karenina… ”
Allie allowed their voices to fade. Seeking distraction, she studied a black and white poster of a woman with short dark hair parted unflatteringly at the side and huge confident eyes, and the caption, There is a level of cowardice lower than that of the conformist: the fashionable non-conformist. Ayn Rand. Another poster showed a brooding man with a thick black moustache, the caption, God is dead… God remains dead… And we have killed him… and a mean-looking name, the pronunciation of which Allie wouldn’t even dare guess at. There was a strong masculine scent; of sweat and overdue laundry. Books everywhere, with dog-eared pages and torn covers, and dust balls under all the chairs and the dresser. Allie thought it was the filthiest room she’d ever been in, and it grossed her out even to sit on the bed. When had the sheets been changed last, and what unspeakable act had Charles performed in them? He was leaning back in his chair, hands clasped behind his back, wearing an arrogant frown, and Allie shifted her attention to Nathaniel. He was kind of cute, but he was so obviously ignoring her that she decided to ignore him back. Dawn seemed okay, but she was probably snotty, too.
There was a lull in the conversation, and Allie sensed the attention was suddenly on her, so she tried to arrange her expression into a semblance of attentiveness.
“Met that spaceshot who shares a room with Jules?” Charles asked.
“Yeah. I like her, she’s nice,” Allie said boldly. The stunned silence with which her verdict was received made her nervous, and she looked away.
“Big shock,” Charles sneered. “I’m sure you two have a lot in common.” Adopting a Valley Girl accent, he said, “You two, like totally, probably use the same shampoo, fer sure!”
In the same accent Allie shot back, “You should like totally consider washing your hair, fer sure!”
Dawn and Nathaniel said “Oooh!” at the barb. Jules stared in shock at Allie, whose delicate features were stormy as she prepared for Charles’ next attack.
“Gee, now that really stings. An affront on my personal hygiene. Could it be that I have more important things to think about than how my little lady pin looks on my blazer?”
Allie opened her glossy pink lips to deliver a snappy retort, then remembered that these were Jules’ friends, and bowed her head in gracious surrender.
Furious, Jules stood. “Well, Charles, I think your manners have impressed my sister enough for one day.” Turning to Allie, she said, “Let’s go.”
Dawn said quickly, “Don’t be mad, Jules. You know how Charles is.”
“I guess I thought he was more,” Jules said. Slamming the door behind her, she said to Allie, “Are you okay? I’m so sorry about Charles. He can be a real asshole. Are you mad?”
Allie shook her head. “I’m not mad, I’m sorry. I know you’re disappointed in me.”
“I know you hate PJ but I like her; and I know you like your friends, but Jules… oh my God, they’re such jerks.”
To her surprise, Jules laughed. “Yeah, they can be.”
“But… why do you hang out with them?”
“Well, because. We have a lot in common. We read a lot, we don’t watch TV… ”
“But they’re so mean! You’re not like that.” But then she tipped her head and added slowly, “I take it back. You are like them. About PJ and her friends. You treat them like shit, and they really like you.”
By now they’d reached Jules’ room, and they stood in the hall for another minute. Inside there was careless giggling, and the sound of the television. Jules looked down at the ridiculous doormat that had arrived with PJ: Friends are always welcome! “They don’t like me,” she said.
“They do so.”
“They do not! They always look at me like I’m weird for being so into school.”
“They do not, you’re making that up. You hate them they’re not geniuses like you.”
“That’s not true! I… ”
“I know for a fact,” Allie said, “because I was a snob when I was with my friends, too.”
The door opened suddenly and PJ greeted them with a smile. “I thought I heard you guys! Come on in, we made popcorn.”
Jules saw that To Kill a Mockingbird was on, and sat on the bed next to Molly. Allie warned them, “Jules has seen this movie about a thousand times, and can recite most of the dialogue.”
Gregory Peck told the sheriff mournfully, “We had a good chance,” and Jules, helping herself to a handful of popcorn, said with him, “We had better than a good chance.”
PJ and her friends laughed. Then PJ said to Allie, “I just can’t believe you made that pin.”
Allie took it off her lapel. “Here, you can have it.”
“What? No! It’s yours!”
“I can make another one. Really. Take it.”
“But I mean… if you’re sure… !” PJ affixed it to the collar of her shirt, then went to admire it in the mirror. “I love it so much! I’m going to wear it every single day!”
Molly and Ellen moved from the bed to her side.
“It looks so good on you!”
“Can I borrow it sometime?”
Jules glanced up from the TV and caught sight of PJ’s radiant smile in the mirror. Their eyes met. PJ turned to face her. “How does it look?”
An unexpected warmth spread through Jules. “You look beautiful.”