• robinstratton23

29. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online


“When you said fancy… wow!” Lisbeth whispered to Simon as they were shown the way to the ballroom. “I can’t believe someone lives here!”


“I know. It’s insane.”


“I’m so glad you told me to get dressed up!”


Simon couldn’t help smiling at her; she was almost her old self—excited and happy.  And adorable too, in a tight dark blue dress and a pink blazer. Someone—Allie, probably—had done her hair and makeup, and it made her look older. More sophisticated. 


“This is where you’ll set up,” explained the party planner cheerfully. “Some of the guests will probably want to come up and use your microphone to say a few words, is that okay?”


“Sure.”


“They might even want to sing a few songs. Would that be okay?”


“Anything is okay,” Simon assured her. “It’s going to be fun.”


She nodded, told them to let her know if they needed anything, and slipped away. Simon and Lisbeth got to work setting up their equipment. Lisbeth had to fight back tears; it felt so weird to not have Kevin there, doing rolls, hitting his cymbals. 


Simon, picking up on her mood, distracted her with questions about what they should include on their set sheet. They weren’t going to do their usual songs, since it was just the two of them, and had decided to try some impromptu jazz stuff, with her doing drums on her keyboard, even though it wasn’t anything they’d ever done, outside of just fooling around with it a few times. “It’ll either work or it won’t,” Simon laughed. “If we suck, hopefully no one will notice.”


“I’ll notice,” said a voice. They both looked up and saw a guy in his early twenties wearing an expensive-looking suit. He grinned. “Only because I’m a musician too.” He reached out his hand to shake Simon’s. “Preston.”


“Hi, Preston. I’m Simon and this is Lisbeth.”


“Hi, Lisbeth.” He took a closer look at their equipment, asked a few questions, and then said if they knew a few basic jazz riffs, they could probably improvise for hours. “As a two-piece combo that doesn’t play jazz, what do you usually do?”


“We just lost our drummer. This is the first time it’s just us,” Simon explained. “What’s the crowd like, can we get away with real mellow stuff like… James Taylor, Cat Stevens… ?”


“Yeah, they’ll like that. It’s my dad and work people.  It’s going to be incredibly boring. They’ll drink a lot and then they’ll all want to sing. You take requests? They’ll have requests.”

“We’ll do what we can. Lissie can handle just about anything on her keyboard. Would be better if we had a third person up here.”


“I’d much rather be up there than sitting at a table,” Preston said mournfully. 


“What do you play?” Lisbeth asked.


“Bass.”


“I don’t suppose you brought it with you,” she smiled.


“It’s here—I live here, it’s in my room. Why… could I… I mean… could I sit in?”


Lisbeth glanced at Simon and he nodded. “Why not? If it’s okay with your father.”


“He probably won’t even realize it. I’ll be right back! This is awesome!” Preston ran off.


“Hope he’s good,” Lisbeth said.


“So what if he isn’t? We’ll still get paid.” 


When Preston returned, he plugged in, plucked a few strings, and then broke into a classic jazz progression. 


“Oh, you sound great,” Lisbeth said, impressed. She fell into a groove on her keyboards with him, and after a few seconds, Simon did too. All three were amazed at how well they worked together. 

When the party planner came by, she was surprised to see her client’s son was with the band, but just smiled and said if they wanted to have something to eat before they were scheduled to begin, now was their chance. 


They stepped off the stage and followed Preston through a door into a smaller eating area. The chef told them what was on the menu, and they chose, and then sat down and ate quickly. 


“I can’t believe I’m going to actually have fun today,” Preston said. “That was the last thing I expected!”


“And we have a third guy,” Lisbeth said, “who’s really good!”


“Thanks. I can tell you’re really good too.”


“She’s been playing since she was born, just about,” Simon told him proudly.


“How long have you guys been together?”


“We’ve had the band for a couple of years, but we’ve known each other… ” Lisbeth thought for a second, then laughed. “Wow, it’s only been three years. It seems like we’ve been friends forever, doesn’t it, Simon?”


At the words “friends,” a look came across Preston’s face. Lisbeth didn’t see it, but Simon did, and that’s when he realized what was happening.


“Just friends,” he confirmed. “Our drummer was her boyfriend, but they broke up.”


“Simon!” Lisbeth was startled. “Why would you tell him that?”


“Blabber mouth,” Simon shrugged. He and Preston swapped glances.


“Ready?” came the anxious prompt of the party planner, appearing in the doorway. “The guests will be coming into the ballroom soon.”


“Ready,” Simon confirmed. 



“So… ?” Simon demanded after he and Lisbeth had packed up and gotten into Simon’s Jeep to head home. 


“Quite a gig,” she said. “Quite a gig.”


“He liked you. Did he ask for your number?”


“In fact… he did.” With a smile she produced a piece of paper. “And gave me his.” 

“Nice going, Lisbeth… and he’s stinkin’ rich, too.” 


She laughed. Then she realized it was the first time she’d laughed since the night Chicken Slax won the trophy, and she laughed some more. “Stinkin’ rich!”



“So many women lose their identity when they’re with a man,” Pauline said. “That’s what I did. I was different when I was with a guy. If he wanted me to be real girlie, I was. If he liked athletic girls, I watched sports and played tennis or whatever. If he wanted a whore, I was that, too. I can be whoever a guy wants me to be.” She sipped her wine cooler. “I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to be without a man in my life. I don’t know who the hell I am.”


Mandy, nursing a weak screwdriver, said awkwardly, “Wow… that’s so… ”


“Sorry to dump on you, Mandy. You said you didn’t know that much about me. So that’s my deal. One of those losers who doesn’t know how to be alone.”


“Stop. You’re not a loser.”


“I am. I’m thirty. I’ve been divorced for eight years.  I married my first boyfriend right out of high school.” Quickly she added, “I know it sounds like I’m telling you not to marry Tim or something. But honest, I’m not. I really like Tim, and I see he treats you good. I just… I don’t have any friends to talk to anymore, because I ditched all my friends every time I started seeing a guy, and after it happened a bunch of times, my friends got sick of it. Which I don’t blame them.”


“Well… maybe you should talk to, like, a psychiatrist.”


“I probably should. Kind of expensive, though. My brother is seeing a shrink and he pays her sixty bucks an hour. And it’s not even a full hour, it’s only fifty minutes. So it’s more than ten dollars a minute. Ha! Wish we made that at Russel-Berries!”


The bartender paused on his way past them. “You girls need more?”


Mandy was dismayed when Pauline held up her empty glass. “Another one for me. Mandy?”


“All set.” Mandy watched him leave, and then said, “Maybe you could go to the library and get one of those self-help books.”


“Maybe. I don’t know. I have a lot of shit to work through. From my childhood.” The bartender brought her another wine cooler, and she thanked him. “I might have someone new. I don’t know. I met him the other night. He asked for my number, and then he actually called. We went out, but he didn’t spend the night, he left right afterwards.”


Mandy sat and listened, and felt sad. To have sex with a guy the first time you go out with him… ! She couldn’t imagine it. 


“You’d never do that, huh,” Pauline said. 


“I… I don’t know. It seems like… if you really liked him… well, I mean, you didn’t even take the time to find out if you liked him, you just jumped into bed with him.”


“That’s it, that’s what I did. That’s what I always do. That’s my problem. It’s like… it’s like, that’s the only way I know how to get a guy to like me. “


“You don’t give him a chance to like you for you.”


“I know. But I don’t know how to stop. I guess I feel like he won’t like me. You know, unless I give him a blow job or whatever.”


Mandy sighed. “Pauline. That’s so… you shouldn’t do that. It’s so… disrespectful to yourself.”


“I know. I always tell myself I won’t do it. But then… I always get scared, and I do.”


“Do they ever stay?”


“Sometimes. But then that’s the whole relationship, the sex. Not even a relationship. Not like what you and Tim have.” She lifted her glass to her lips and drank almost half. “You and I are so different. You come from such a nice family.”


Before Mandy could respond, the bartender stopped by with the bill. Pauline took a ten and a couple of ones out of her wallet, and shook her head when Mandy reached for her own purse. “My treat. Thanks for coming out with me. It felt good to talk.”


“It was fun… being out with another woman,” Mandy said, even though it hadn’t exactly been “fun.” But in a way, it felt good; it felt empowering, somehow. She wasn’t like Pauline, she didn’t need Tim to make her happy. Then she thought about how sweet and funny he was, and thought, But there’s nothing wrong with the fact that he does make me happy. “I’m just going to use the ladies’ room, I’ll be right back.”


But she didn’t use the ladies’ room. She found a payphone and called Tim. When he answered, she said, “Meet me somewhere.”


“What?”


“Meet me somewhere. I want to be with you.”


“Who is this?” he joked.


“You want to or not?”


His voice turned husky. “Tell me where.”



“Camping?” Jules said. “What do you mean, like, with a tent?”


“No. Grandfather has a friend who has a cabin in New Hampshire. It’s right on a lake. And he said I could bring some friends there for a weekend. We should go! Summer is half over and we haven’t done anything.”


“I’m in,” Allie said right away. She was wearing a leopard print bikini top and denim shorts, and her thick blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail. 


Jules hated that her first thought was, But what if Michael calls while I’m gone? “Okay.”


“We can ask Mandy and Tim and Lisbeth. It’s a big cabin.” 


“Maybe Preston will come, too,” Allie said. “They’ve been seeing a lot of each other.”

Simon nodded. “He’s more than welcome. I like him, he’s a good guy. Lissie and I even talked about inviting him to join Chicken Slax.”


“Really?” Jules was surprised. “But what if… ”

“If they break up like she and Kevin did? That’s why we haven’t asked him yet.” 


“It’s so weird that Kevin never called. I can’t believe he would just disappear like that.”


Jules and Allie had said this to Simon so many, many times, and each time he struggled to answer. Yeah, he was pissed at Kevin; but at the time he felt so sorry for the guy. Went from having the best girlfriend in the world, and being in a great band, to nothing. Simon didn’t like the way he’d resumed running around, either—even with that idiot drunk girl who, Kevin told him, spent the first two weeks of the summer calling him, writing him letters, and one night she just showed up… threw a rock at his window, and when he looked out, she was just standing there. He asked her how she knew which window was his bedroom, and she said she had been by earlier and looked in while the shade was up. “Creepy as shit,” he laughed. But Simon thought what was even creepier was the look on Kevin’s face as he explained how he dumped her at a party in front of her friends. “What’s your problem?” Simon asked. “She really liked you. You should have let her down easy.” But Kevin had said, “No way. She’s the real reason I lost Lissie.” When Simon suggested he call her—Lisbeth, not the drunk girl−Kevin just kept shaking his head and insisting that it was too late. 


“I think he got scared at how much he loved her,” Simon now said. “It freaked him out that he wasn’t free and single anymore.”


“That’s no excuse,” Allie said, and Jules shook her head. “Let’s not even talk about him.”


“Let’s find out when everyone can go, and I’ll ask Grandfather to call his friend.”



Sure enough, as soon as Lisbeth confirmed that the cabin was big enough that she could have her own bedroom, she asked Simon if she could bring Preston. “We can jam,” she said.


“Jam?” Simon laughed. “Sure, whatever you say.”



It was a convoy that headed up to New Hampshire on Friday afternoon: Lisbeth and Preston in his BMW convertible, Simon, Allie, and Jules in Simon’s Jeep, and Mandy and Tim in Tim’s eight-year old Ford Escort (“the shoebox” he called it.) Jules, who’d brought along plenty of pens, a thick empty notebook, and two poems she was working on, allowed herself to feel excited. 


“What a great idea this was, Simon,” she said. “I’m so glad you thought of it.”


Allie, in back with her bag of drawing pads, pencils, paints, and charcoals, agreed. “We all needed to get away.”


As always, Jules fell silent at the reminder of Allie’s loss. It made the thing with Michael seem so insignificant. What a jerk he was! Wonder what he’s doing? Wonder if he ever thinks about me? Probably not! As usual, her thoughts went from anger, to sadness, to disgust—with him and with herself. She looked over at Simon, and at the same time he looked at her. “We can make a bonfire and you can play your guitar and we can sing. Oh, we should have gotten marshmallows.”


“I bought some.”


“You did?”


“Toasted marshmallows!” Allie said. “I can’t remember the last time we had those! That time we went camping with Dad, I guess… the summer before he left.”


“I brought a goofy guide to star gazing, too,” Simon admitted. “Tim used to teach me about astronomy and I always wanted to be the kind of person who’d go out and learn the constellations. But I never did.”


“Me too,” Jules said. “We’ll definitely do that.” For a moment she had an impulse to reach out and take his hand. 


“Man,” he said, his eyes on his rearview mirror, “Preston has a real sweet ride. I’m so glad Lisbeth brought him. I wonder if they’ve had sex yet?”


“Not yet,” Jules said. “I’m sure tonight, though.”



Lisbeth was sure, too. The wind tugged at her hair, and the heat was wonderful on her face. She knew nothing about cars, but she was aware that his was getting a lot of attention. Bright red, like Allie’s fingernail polish; he said he’d been pulled over by the cops even when he hadn’t been speeding. “You’re a guy in your twenties driving a hot red car, they assume you’re going too fast,” he’d said. She tried not to think about the junk heap Kevin drove.



Tim’s drive was less enjoyable as he listened to Mandy talk about Pauline’s problems. He’d been startled and delighted by Mandy’s invitation that night, not just because of the unexpected blow job, but because he realized that being with Pauline had made Mandy grateful that she had him.  But Mandy’s nature was to take care of others, and he didn’t want her to get so caught up in Pauline’s baggage that she stopped focusing on a future that he now realized he hoped included continuing her education and getting some kind of degree. Didn’t even matter what the degree was in. It was fine that she was taking off a couple of years to work. Lots of people did that, making money and saving up for…


“Tim, did you hear what I said?”


“Uh… something about Pauline.”


“Just that I wish I could help her find someone.”


“You said the customers love her. Maybe one of those guys.”


Mandy frowned. “Well that’s what happens—she meets a customer, they flirt, and then she brings him home and has sex with him and doesn’t hear from him again.” 


Mandy had already told him this five times, so he knew he could get away with just saying, “Uh huh,” and letting her talk. The Sox were playing and he wished he could turn on the game. 



Kevin had tried to ignore the emptiness he felt when he was with someone who wasn’t Lisbeth, but one morning, for some reason, it really hit him, and he felt sick; got out of bed without so much as an I’m really sorry, I have to go to the girl he’d just been with, and dressed and left. Spent the rest of the day thinking about it, and then called Simon to see if he wanted to hang out. What a dickhead. Simon was right. I should have called Lissie right away.


When Mr. Lawrence answered the phone, he said, “I’m confused,” because he had not been told about the breakup. “I assumed you were with the kids this weekend.”


“With the kids?” Kevin repeated.


“Simon and the girls all went to New Hampshire for the weekend.”


“Uh, yeah,” Kevin said quickly, “that’s what I’m calling about. I’m supposed to meet them there, but I lost the address.”

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© 2019 by Robin Stratton