27. In Love with Spring: My novel online
Jules and Michael began spending more time together, and they talked about everything—philosophy, art, literature, politics, the meaning of life, religion, karma. It seemed the only thing they didn’t discuss was what would happen over the summer. Jules was desperate to know if he planned to visit her, or invite her to visit him, or if he was content not to see her until September. He obviously liked being with her… he stopped by her place at last once a day; sometimes for five minutes to say hi, or long enough to grab a meal or go for a walk. But he said several times that his summers were always busy, because he belonged to a theatre group back home, and he worked full time at his father’s bakery. If he wants to see me, he’ll make time, she told herself. If he doesn’t, then I’ll know this relationship doesn’t mean much to him.
Despite what he’d said, the sex hadn’t gotten much better. It was never prefaced with any significant foreplay, and ended before Jules felt anything. She wondered if something was wrong with her, if she was one of those frigid women who couldn’t have an orgasm. In order to keep him from being disappointed or frustrated, she began to fake it… moan when he did, and then act like she was having trouble catching her breath when it was over. Which she knew was stupid—how would he know if she didn’t tell him? And yet, she could never bring herself to say anything.
But one day, lying in bed, her head on his chest and his arm draped around her shoulder, the words just popped out: “Are you going to call me over the summer?” I sound so pathetic… like one of those clingy girlfriends who nag their boyfriends so much they break up with them.
She raised her head to look into his eyes, hoping to see more enthusiasm than she’d heard in his voice. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said reproachfully.
“Well, we’ll see. I’m going to be pretty—”
“Busy. I know.”
She lowered her head so he couldn’t see her face. Damn him. His indifference was harder to deal with than say, jealousy or anger. She hadn’t been exciting enough. Not attractive enough. What am I doing wrong?
She was determined to be cool. She studied for finals. She spent time with her other friends. She even went out with Simon for pizza a couple of times. But whenever Michael called, she dropped everything; if she had plans, she usually canceled, in order to be with him. Like a slave. On the way to his room she’d think, What am I doing? Have I lost my mind? Why am I acting like this? But by the time she reached his door she’d be so excited that she couldn’t even think straight. She’d hold him tight, as if weeks had passed since the last time she’d seen him, and then she’d listen to whatever he had to say as if he was a sage divulging all the secrets of the universe.
On the last day, Jules spent a couple of hours with her friends, making lukewarm plans to call and get together over the summer. Then she hung out with PJ for the last time; and it really was the last time, because PJ had decided to go to a college closer to her home in Albany. Hugging each other tight, they knew they’d probably exchange Christmas cards for a couple of years, then never see each other again. But they were both happy to have been friends for a year.
Finally she went down to say Goodbye to Michael. If he wants to have sex, I’m going to just say No, she told herself grimly. She tapped on his door, then opened it when he called “Come on in!”
He was sitting on his bed, surrounded by stuff, reading a script. “We’re doing Annie this summer,” he greeted her. “Dumb story. Too cutesy.”
“Huh. Well, I’ll see you later.” Her voice was distant; cool.
He looked up. “You leaving now?”
“In a little while.” She looked around the room. Michael was going to be moving to another dorm in the fall, so they wouldn’t even be living in the same building. She tried to imagine what it would be like to grow old with him−to sit on a porch drinking lemonade and laughing about how they were when they met−and couldn’t.
“Okay.” He stood. “How about a goodbye kiss?”
As he put his arm around her, the battle between logic and emotion took a decisive turn. Her knees went weak, and when her breasts pressed against him, she tipped her head back so that he could nuzzle the vulnerable regions of her neck and throat. Michael’s lips found their mark, making their way along sensitive skin, until Jules thought she would scream. Her resistance defeated, she swiftly defeated how much time she could spend with him before Simon came to pick her up.
He released her. “That dumb song.”
Jules opened her eyes; the sweet, melty feeling retreating. “What?”
“That dumb song. From Annie.” In a child’s voice he sang with mocking inflection, “Tomorrow… tomorrow… I love ya, tomorrow… ” His gaze wandered back to the script on his bed. “Plus, you’re always taking a risk when you have an animal in a show, unless it’s been professionally trained. I did this show a few years ago, and we had this dog, and he wouldn’t face the audience, and he’s supposed to be, liked, totally devoted to this little orphan, and all he could do was try to get away so he could run off the stage. The audience was laughing. It sucked.”
Fuming, Jules listened out his complaint. Their last few minutes together, and he’s talking about dogs and orphans? “Well,” she said, “good luck.”
She looked around his room one last time, trying to come up with something to say that would make him realize he had to see her over the summer or he would die. “So… have a good summer.”
One day near the end of the school year, Allie’s homeroom teacher pulled her aside discreetly and told her that she was wanted in Principal Bradley’s office. She nodded; had been expecting this, because of all the classes she’d been missing.
But to her surprise, when she knocked on his door and was invited in, she saw Mom and a middle-age couple sitting there. “What’s wrong?”
“Allie,” said Principal Bradley, “I’d like you to meet Zeke’s parents.”
They stood and stepped toward her. Allie felt sick. “Is Zeke… ?”
“We want to thank you,” Zeke’s mom interrupted, reaching out to hug her. “Zeke loves your visits. It means so much to him.”
Allie accepted the embrace, and could feel Zeke’s mom trembling with emotion. “Zeke is my best friend,” she said. “I love visiting him.”
“Miss April,” Mr. Bradley said, “Zeke’s parents and your mom and I have come to a decision. We all agree that spending time with Zeke is more important than being in class. So if you think you can keep up with your tests and papers… ”
“Lisbeth will bring home your assignments,” Mom said.
“And Zeke can help you study,” Zeke’s dad said proudly. “He’s a super smart kid.”
“Wait… so… I don’t have to go to class anymore?”
“Since there are only three weeks left of school,” Principal Bradley said, “we thought it would be okay. As long as you can keep up.”
Allie nodded. “I can,” she promised.
She envisioned lots of laughing; of him doing her homework quickly, leaving them plenty of time to listen to his comedy records and laugh and laugh. Sometimes she let herself think about him saying, Allie, I can’t explain it but… I think I’m getting better! Like the way Lisbeth suddenly realized that she was cured.
Instead, he got worse. First he started greeting her at the door still in the tee shirt and gym shorts that he’d slept in. Then she started having to let herself in because he didn’t have the energy to get up from the couch. Sometimes he’d lie there under a blanket, even though it was hot out. More and more, he’d fall asleep right in the middle of helping her with math. A few times his mom or dad was there, but neither could take much time off because of the medical bills.
As soon as Simon’s grandfather got wind of the situation, he dispatched Simon out to the house in the middle of the night to leave an envelope with an anonymous bank cheque for $10,000 in the door. When Allie arrived several hours later, she feigned surprise and bewilderment: So you have no idea who did it? Zeke’s mom said Plus they paid for us to have a visiting nurse, too! and Zeke’s father said, It means we don’t have to go back to work until… then three sets of eyes darted over to the couch; but Zeke was sound asleep. Allie didn’t know how she was going to keep from crying. All she knew was that she had to.
It was a few days of him being too weak to get out of bed, then he stopped eating. “For me,” Allie said, trying to coax a spoonful of soup into his mouth. But he moved his head, and his eyes met hers. Please let me go, I’m ready to go, they seemed to say. “No,” she said out loud. “Not yet.”
He sighed, shut his eyes, and drifted off.
The nurse, whose name was Esther, put her hand on Allie’s arm. “He’s waiting for you to say it’s okay,” she said gently. “It’s time for him. He knows it’s time.”
Before Allie could answer, Zeke mumbled, “Guy has to wait for his girlfriend to say he can croak.”
Allie leaned down and kissed his forehead tenderly. “Great comedy bit,” she whispered. He smiled. Later she would call it his last smile, because he didn’t wake up again. Not that day, or during the night, or the next day either. Esther said it was the pain meds that made him so sleepy.
“It’s like he’s in a coma,” Allie said.
“Well, he sort of is. It’s a blessing, Allie. He’s not in any pain. This is the best way to… go out.”
Allie didn’t go home that evening. She and Zeke’s parents lay in sleeping bags on the floor of Zeke’s room, taking turns sitting on his bed, holding his hand. He looks so peaceful; they must have each said it a hundred times that night.
Very early in the morning, just as the new day’s sunlight started creeping through the shades, Allie, who decided for no reason to adjust Zeke’s sheets, heard him give a wet, raspy cough. His mom and dad were at his side in less than a moment, and were there for his final breath—deep in, and then several moments later… the release. And that was that.
They stood in stunned silence; as if waiting for him to open his eyes and say Wow, I had such a great nap! What’s for breakfast?
“Zeke,” his mom murmured, her hand on his cheek. “Zeke, baby… ” and his dad burst into angry tears. “Dammit! Dammit, Zeke! Dammit!”
Allie stepped back to let them have this private moment with their son. She had no desire to look at him. She didn’t feel the need to hug him or stroke his face or talk to him. She felt like the wasted body in the bed was just a discarded shell. He was gone.
At the same moment, his parents turned to her, and held open their arms. They clung to her, sobbing. She felt strong. She felt that Zeke would have wanted her to be.
Fifteen-year old girl has to be the strength when a mother and father watch their only child die, she thought. Not a good comedy bit.
Her family went to the funeral with her, and hugged her and told her how sorry they were, but since she’d been so private about Zeke, they didn’t—couldn’t—really understand what she was going through. Lisbeth, still mourning her breakup with Kevin, wasn’t much comfort. Simon took her out almost every day, shopping or to lunch or both, and kept up a steady stream of cheerful conversation. Mandy and Tim hung out at the April’s house in the evening, instead of going out, and they all watched movies on HBO. She could feel their eyes on her, watching… waiting to see if she was going to be okay or come undone. Sometimes she loved all the company; other times she wanted to shut her eyes and cover her ears and scream, Stop talking! Just stop talking and let me be sad!
School had ended before Zeke died, and she hadn’t gone back, and she hadn’t finished all her work, but no one said anything, and when her grades arrived in the mail there were no Incompletes, just her usual array of A’s, B’s, and C’s. The thing that surprised her most was the way her grief affected her art. No longer interested in sketching ladybugs on flowers or bunnies nibbling clover, she found herself drawn to a more abstract form, expressing her feelings through color and shape. At least one good thing has come out of this, she thought, pleased.
Amidst all the chit-chat, her favorite distraction was Jules, whose summer job was buffing pewter figures at a local factory. The work was dangerous, Jules explained; you had to hold the figure tight, or the spinning buffing wheel would snatch it out of your hand and propel it God-knows-where. The factory’s old timers all sported scars and shared a little higher and it would have taken my eye out! stories. The supervisor, Ronnie, was youngish and good looking, with fluffy blow-dried hair and a thick mustache. Most of the female workers had a crush on him, and admired the bulge in his jeans when they thought he wasn’t looking. “A rolled-up sock,” was Jules’ theory, but no one seemed to want to believe her.
The other thing Allie wanted to talk about was Michael. “Do you think he’ll call?”
“I think if he was going to, he would have by now.” It made Jules feel a little sick to say it. “I just don’t understand why he hasn’t.”
“Michael is… ” Allie paused. “… different. Maybe because he’s so passionate about the theatre or whatever. But he’s not normal. Any guy would be lucky to have you. I wish… ”
“Not to be mean, but I wish your first time had been… better.”
“Me too.” Jules sighed. Allie was the only she’d told about the unremarkable sex. “But what gets me is… we were together so much of the time. We did everything together… we had all our meals together, and we watched TV together, and we laughed a lot and had so much fun. So… where does all that… where do those feelings go? He can just put them aside for three months?”
“He might call,” Allie said.
“He could be dead, for all I know. If he was killed in a car accident, I’d have no way of finding out. Not like he told his parents about me or anything.”
When Allie didn’t respond, Jules added, “And the worst thing? When I see him again in the fall… if he seems even slightly interested… I’ll probably… ” She turned her head so Allie wouldn’t see the tears. “Isn’t that the stupidest thing you ever heard?”
Allie hugged her. “We all do stupid things.”
When Lisbeth walked into the room, Jules looked away. She didn’t feel justified complaining about Michael since Kevin still hadn’t called. “I have to get a job this summer,” Lisbeth said, sitting on her bed. “I need to keep busy.” She sighed. “You know, I was going to work at the music store, but… ”
Allie and Jules didn’t answer. The day after Simon got home, he’d come over and taken a stab at explaining why Kevin hadn’t called—He’s going through some weird phase, I think he’s scared at how much he loves you. He’s been in a shitty mood ever since that day—but to Allie had been more truthful as soon as she promised not to tell Lisbeth. And of course Allie had told Jules.
It was hard on Simon, because it meant his band split up, too, and he was confronted with the difficult task of juggling friendships with Lisbeth and Kevin both. At first they asked about each other; but when his answers were noncommittal, they stopped. He felt horrible for Lisbeth, noticing that she’d lost weight and didn’t seem to care about playing anymore, and was annoyed with Kevin, who resumed working at the music store and seemed to be doing okay. Simon had given up telling Kevin to call Lisbeth and at least apologize, because Kevin kept saying that he had apologized, and she hadn’t accepted it, and now it was just too late.