25. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Feb 2
ZEKE WAS ALWAYS quietly overjoyed when Allie showed up at the playground in the middle of the day. He knew she had to be careful about which classes to skip—mostly study hall and gym, but sometimes math. A couple of times she showed up at noon, and he got upset; she’d told him about her brush with anorexia, and he made her promise never to do it again: “I’m so nauseous all the time, I would give anything to have a slice of pizza or ice cream or something.”
He lived just a few minutes away from the school, so they started going to his house. His parents both worked, and they could listen to music really loud, or he’d put on his comedy albums: Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small and Class Clown by George Carlin. When he played Richard Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip, she laughed appreciatively at the way he asked the audience if anyone had a match—making fun of the fact that he’d almost burnt himself to death freebasing just a couple of years earlier. But when he launched immediately into a story about the first time he masturbated, Zeke could tell she was embarrassed.
“Shit, I forgot about that bit,” he said. “I’ll take it off.”
“No, it’s funny.”
He got up and shut off the record player anyway. “When you’re a comic, you have to talk about stuff no one else has the guts to talk about. I was going to be a comic. That’s what I was going to do.” He watched the pain cross her face, the way it always did when he talked about dying, and felt bad about it, but he wanted her to accept it and be ready.
She asked, “What are some things you would talk about that no one else had the guts to?”
He sat on the couch next to her. “Dying.” He took her hand; something he always did before he said something serious. “I’m so glad we met before I got too sick.”
“I didn’t care for a while that I was going to die…but now I kind of do. I’ll never know what it’s like to…”
“Masturbate?” she joked.
He grinned. “Good one.”
“Actually, I know quite a bit about what that’s like.”
They laughed together. She said, “I hope you washed your hands,” and he thought it was so funny that before he knew what was happening, he was kissing her. She let out a little gasp of surprise but kissed him back. He put his arms around her; held her close and could feel her breasts pressing against his chest. Boldy he sent one hand around front, reached up her shirt, and when she arched her back and moaned, he caressed her nipple through her lacy bra.
Then she pulled away. “Zeke…no.”
He stopped immediately. “Shit, Allie, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She sat back, ruffled her hair, straightened her shirt, and stood. “I should get going. I can’t miss history class again.”
“I didn’t bring you here to…”
“I know. Listen, I have to go. I don’t want to be late. Are you coming?”
“No, you stopped me too soon.” He was relieved when she managed to smile; then said, “No, I think I’m just going to lie down.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“It’s fine. Honest.”
“I just…I’ll never know what it’s like, you know? In a way, that’s what pisses me off the most about dying. That I'll never know. But really, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, honest. I just can’t miss history class again.”
“Alright.” He walked her to the door. “Please don’t be mad.”
“I’m not.” She hurried out and called back, “I’ll see you later.”
It was opening night, and Michael was frantic in a way Jules had never seen. For the past month he’d been anxious about set designs or costumes that didn’t look right, or actors who kept screwing up their lines, but right now he was an absolute madman—screaming at everyone, waving his arms, and upsetting most of the girls with his criticism. Jules tried to keep out of his way, but he managed to find some tiny detail to snap at her about. He didn’t even respond to her apology, just threw up his hands, and continued to storm back and forth, shouting out directions.
“Don’t worry, he always gets like this,” a voice behind Jules said. “He shouts at us and insults us until we’re so rattled we can’t even think, let alone perform. Then the next day he’s back to his old lovable self.” Lillith’s expression was rueful. “And then the next night it’s the same thing all over again. So don’t be upset. He didn’t mean what he said. He won’t even remember in an hour.”
“Oh.” Lillith was the last person Jules would have expected a kind word from. Their exchanges had mostly been limited to Hello and See ya.
“He’s a bitch to live with,” Lillith went on. Together, they watched him tell Jason, who was playing Pat, to speak higher—higher, god dammit! “He’s a great guy, but he gets a little caught up in his own…Michael-ness. If you know what I mean. But he’s worth it.”
Jules looked at her, feeling awkward. “So why…what happened with you guys, why did you break up?”
“Because like most guys, he’s also a dick head.” Lillith shrugged. “I’m not trying to discourage you, honest. I just wanted you know what you’re in for. Michael is all about Michael. No one else.”
“Lillith!” Michael roared. “Back on stage!”
“Yes sir, Captain!” Her salute made the other performers laugh.
Jules retreated to the back of the auditorium. She could hear Michael telling the lighting crew to watch for cues—if it isn’t too much fucking trouble! and a shiver ran through her, an actual shiver.
But the performance went better than anyone expected, given all of his sharp comments beforehand, and Jules was delighted when the audience laughed at all the right lines. And at the end, they applauded until the all the players came out for a second bow.
The atmosphere behind the scenes was exuberant. Everyone was milling around, still in costume; up close Jules could see the thick makeup on their faces; the bright lips and overly-decorated eyes. All the boys who’d been playing women took their wigs off, but left their oversized brassieres on, and the air was thick with the smell of beer. Michael was distributing hugs, slapping backs and shaking hands. When he spotted Jules, he motioned her over, then threw his arms around her.
“Wasn’t it great, Jules? Everyone loved it! Professor Ramsdell said it was the best play he’s ever seen put on here! How do you feel? Don’t you feel great?”
“Great!” Jules echoed. Their faces were close; she could smell the champagne on his breath. His hands were around her waist, and her arms were draped around his shoulders. Powerful desire flooded her, but all of a sudden, he was pulled away, and she was left standing alone.
“Time for his You were brilliant tonight but that doesn’t mean you can fuck up tomorrow night speech,” Lillith said to Jules, and sure enough, a moment later all the players were assembled in a half circle before him.
As he talked about how proud he was, how none of it would have been possible without their dedication, and so on, Jules saw that the group was hanging on every word. Like he was a god. When she tuned in, she was startled to hear him say, “Just so glad we had such a great play to work with,” and then embarrassed when everyone clapped. “Author! Author!” someone shouted, and all she could do was flip her hand and look away.
They went out to a bar, and while Jules nursed a weak screwdriver, they all got incredibly drunk. Luckily, they’d walked, and as they headed back to the dorm, they sang songs from all the shows they could think of.
“Sleep until noon,” Michael instructed when they got back to the dorms and prepared to disperse. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
With final congratulations, everyone headed off. Michael took Jules’ hand, and walked her to her room. She was so nervous that she couldn’t even speak. When they reached her door, he said, “We make a good team.”
“Uh huh.” She couldn’t face him.
But he didn’t let go of her hand. When she looked at him, he leaned forward and kissed her on the lips. It was…there was only one word to describe it, and that word was delicious. She was so scared that her knees would buckle and she’d drop to the floor, that she pulled away and said, “Okay. G’night.”
“Night, Jules.” With a wave, he turned and headed down the hall. She watched him, heard his footsteps on the stairs. Reaching up, she touched her lips. Where magic had happened.
After the performance on Saturday night the group that went to the Willow Street Diner was smaller, and they didn’t stay as late. They got back to the dorm at about midnight, and then half a dozen of them sat in Michael’s room, talking and drinking cheap wine for another hour. One by one they said goodnight and left, and then it was just Jules and Michael sitting on his bed.
“Well,” Jules said, and stood.
“Well,” Michael repeated. He took her hand and pulled her back onto the bed. “Want to stay?”
Jules froze. She’d waited such a long time for the invitation, and now that it was here, she was filled with panic. In her fantasies, her body blended with his, and afterwards they were both completely fulfilled—emotionally, physically and spiritually; he’d hold her and murmur, I’ve never felt like this. For the first time in my life, I want to give. Finally, I’ve found someone I care about more than myself. But in that long-awaited-for moment, all she could think was, I’ve never done anything with any guy! I have no idea how to have sex! What if I don’t do it right? What if he hates my body?
“If you don’t want to, it’s cool,” he said easily. “I’m just really attracted to you right now and I’d like to have you stay. But I understand if you’re uncomfortable.”
Jules frowned. She didn’t like that he was attracted to her “right now,” as if she’d caught him at an opportune time. Plus “uncomfortable?” Translation: scared. No way! “I can stay,” she heard herself say, “but…do you have any…protection?”
“Protection,” he mocked with a grin. “What do you mean, like a gun and a shield?”
He wanted her to say the word; a test. “Condoms,” she said firmly.
His answer unnerved her. Why did he have condoms? Did he buy them in anticipation of having sex with her? Was he so confident of himself? Or were they left over from when he was with Lillith? Jules pictured him wrangling in bed with gorgeous, sexy Lillith; with her beautiful hair spilling over the pillow, her slender body, flat tummy. Anger flared. What nerve, that he thinks I would just do this, what’s that supposed to be, like, the greatest thing that ever happened to any girl? Who the hell is he, telling me he’s attracted to me “right now”?
“I’ll get them in a second. Lie down with me.” He stretched out on his back and motioned for her to lie on top of him.
Awkward and reluctant, she lowered her body onto his, their legs intertwining and seeking a suitable position. She was too nervous to enjoy his kisses and wondered if he could feel her heart pounding against his chest. He’d get them? How many was he planning to use?
After a minute he reached up under her tee shirt and unsnapped her bra. She propped herself up on her elbows so that his hands could travel to the front and caress her breasts. Still kissing her, he pinched her nipples, then took one of her hands and moved it down to feel the hardness of his penis pressing against his fly. He moaned a little as she rubbed obligingly, then muttered, “Come on, let’s get naked.”
He stripped and got under the sheet; she took off her shirt and jeans, then got under the sheet too, and while she took off her bra and panties, he opened the drawer of his nightstand and took out a condom. She watched as he tore open the package and reached down to put it on. Then, with an eager grunt, he climbed on top of her. She arched her back to accommodate his entrance, which she expected to just happen like in the movies; instead, he reached down, fumbled a bit, then maneuvered himself inside. But she was dry and not ready, and all she could feel was a searing pain. She gasped, “Wait!” and tried to pull away, but he held her tight, pumping harder and harder, until her head knocked against the wall. And then he collapsed on top of her. She felt like she’d been torn in half. Would it be rude to push him off? She shifted a bit so that his chin wouldn’t be jabbing her shoulder.
He kissed her on the side of the head. “Don’t worry—it always takes time to determine each other’s rhythm. We’ll get it right.” Sliding off, he removed the condom and tossed it in the direction of the waste basket, then rolled over. “I’m not one of these guys who likes to snuggle afterwards, hope that’s okay.”
“It’s fine. I mean, I’m not either.” Her vagina stung like fire, like a hundred bee stings. There was a feeling of heat and trickling, and she was horrified to think she was bleeding. She wanted to get up and go to the bathroom to check, but she didn’t dare move, and she lay awake for hours while disappointment washed through her over and over.
When dim morning light filtered in through the blinds, she lifted her head carefully and studied his face. In sleep, he looked so peaceful. All the lines of anxiety that cut across his forehead were gone. She hated how handsome he was. She lowered her head and at last, dozed.
“SHIT!” his voice exploded in her ear and she almost jumped out of her skin. “It’s 9:30! I told everyone to be at the auditorium by 10!” Leaping up, and grabbing a robe and his towel, he hurried out the door.
She figured she should get up too, but she didn’t want to—the bed was so warm and comfortable and smelled like him. Now that she’d slept a little, she felt better. The pain was gone, and she suddenly remembered that he’d said “We’ll get it right.” Meaning he would want to do it again. And I’ll be better, now that I know what to expect. She sat up to check the sheets: sure enough, there was a blood stain. Should she feel guilty? Should she offer to wash it? Should she mention it or let him discover it on his own?
She was still trying to decide when he returned a few minutes later, bringing with him a combination of smells: shampoo, deodorant, and toothpaste.
“You better get up,” he said. “I don’t want to be late.” He leaned over and gathered up her clothes; held them out to her. “Here.”
“Thanks.” She took them, then shyly waited for him to turn away before lowering the sheet and putting on her bra. But as he combed his hair, his distant expression in the mirror annoyed her: it was as if he’d already left. Guess I don’t have to worry about being modest, she thought grimly, kicking off the sheets. She got dressed without a word, then sat and watched him pull on the same t-shirt and jeans he’d worn the night before.
Plopping next to her on the bed, he put on socks and then sneakers, and finally turned to her and patted her knee. “Sorry to be rude, but we have to get going. Last night was nice. Did you have fun?”
She felt herself nod.
“Good. We’ll have to do it again some time.” He laughed.
PJ, sitting at her desk reading a magazine, looked up. “Well! Where were you last night, young lady?”
Embarrassed, Jules shrugged.
“I’m so psyched for you! How was it?”
“It went great. The audience was—”
“Not the play, silly. I mean, how was it with Michael? You were with him, right?”
“Oh. Yeah. Um, that was great too.”
PJ held up her magazine. “I knew it would be! I was just reading an article about couples who are both creative and passionate. You guys are perfect together.”
“Yeah.” Jules took off yesterday’s clothes and slipped into her robe. “I have to shower and get ready before my family gets here.”
“I’m so excited for you, Jules!”
She ran the water extra hot. Too many emotions were at war: excitement and apprehension, gratitude and disappointment, relief and doubt.
When the play ended amidst applause and multiple curtain calls, Jules’s family piled on the praise: they loved the story line, the ending, and the characters. She thanked everyone, then said she’d be right back, and headed backstage.
She spotted Michael just in time to see someone pour a bottle of champagne over his head. He laughed and pretended to wash his hair with it. Grabbing the bottle, he took a long swig, then shook it and sprayed everyone. When he saw Jules, he motioned her over. She held back for a moment; they were the stars, not her. But he reached out took her hand and kissed her hard while the others cheered. She could feel champagne soaking her shirt but didn’t care. Being in his arms in front of everyone was the most wonderful feeling in the world!
“Great job,” she said.
“I’ll see you later, okay?”
“What?” He released her, puzzled. “What do you mean? We’re going to celebrate!”
“My family is here. Remember I told you?”
“They want to take me out.” His disappointment, though it pained her, was gratifying, too. “I’ll see you tonight or tomorrow.”
“Tonight or tomorrow?”
“Yes. I told you this, I told you they’d be here. Remember?”
“Well I did. So…” Can I tell my family I can’t go out with them? No! Don’t be insane! I’ll see you tonight or tomorrow.” She forced herself to sound casual, as if it was no big deal.
“Okay.” He held her hand a moment longer. His eyes begged her to stay.
Jules felt herself getting weak. I can tell them to go get something to eat and I’ll meet them later…or maybe I’ll tell them I can only go out for half an hour or and so and then…then Lillith’s warning came back to her: “Michael is all about Michael. No one else.” Like a fresh breeze in a stale closet, Jules’ thoughts cleared. She patted his hand and slipped out of his grip. “I’ll see you later.”