• robinstratton23

3. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Mandy sat on the couch next to Jules. “Want to invite Simon to come with us tonight?”
Jules looked up from her novel. “What?”
“I said, Want to–”
“I heard what you said, I just don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Jessica’s party. Tonight. You said you’d go with me.”
“There is no way I would ever have said that.” Jules was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the third time, and was amazed at how much more she was getting out of it. The first time she read it too fast because she was eager to know how it ended. The second time she slowed down, but she’d enjoyed the ending so much the first time that midway through she started hurrying to get to it faster. But this time she was determined not to rush.
“Maybe I forgot to ask you. I meant to. You know, as a favor.”
“I’m trying to read.”
“Oh. Okay. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.”
Jules sneaked a peek at Mandy, and frowned. Mandy’s hands were in her lap, and she sat quietly. Wistfully. Jules pretended to be engrossed. Okay, concentrate. Read every word…
“It’s just that I hate to go alone.”
“So don’t go.”
“But I told her I would.”
“The disappointment will make her stronger.”
“I guess you’re right. I guess I won’t go.”
“Good call.”
“It’s just that I told her I would. I promised I would. You know how I hate to break a–”
“Oh for crying out loud.” Jules gave up on the book. “Why did you say you’d go if you didn’t want to?”
“I do want to.”
“But why? Those kids are so snotty and artificial.”
Those kids are my friends!”
“You need new friends.”
“You’re so mean.” Mandy crossed her arms. “I never ask you for anything.”
Jules shook her head. “Man alive! Didn’t I spend two hours last night helping you with that paper about the Cuban Missile Crisis?”
“That’s different.”
“Why is it different?”
“Because I didn’t ask you to help, you offered. You insisted. You said the writing could be tighter.”
“Plus there were lots of typos, and some of the facts you didn’t even cite the reference for. That’s why I had to put in the footnotes.”
“It was a lot better after you did it. I turned it in today. Thank you again.”
“You’re welcome again.” Jules went back to her book. Almost seven years had passed since its publication, and she wondered if the author, Robert Pirsig, was working on something new. So sad that his son Chris, who was featured in the story, had been stabbed to death a couple of years ago.
“Okay, here’s the thing. I feel better when you come with me because I feel like… I feel safe with you there.”
Jules looked up. “What kind of party is this?”
“The usual.”
“Drinking and smoking pot. Idiots fighting over some girl they both want to have sex with. So cliché. The last time I went with you I told you it was the last time. They’re so boring.”
“This is absolutely the last time I’ll ask you! Since I’m graduating soon, it’ll probably be the very last party I ever go to.”
“I just don’t get why you need me to go with you. Not like we hang out together once we’re there.”
“Because no one goes to a party alone.”
“Well that’s stupid.”
“God, Jules. Any other kid would love to have their older sister invite them to a party! My friends wouldn’t be caught dead with one of their... ” she stopped. Comparing Jules to other kids was never an effective ploy. “I just feel weird walking into a house by myself. You’re always so cool, you just barge in. I always feel like I should ring the doorbell, and then when I go in, I’m like, just standing there... Please go with me. I’ll do your laundry for a month.”
“Fold it too?”
“And put it away.” Mandy, sensing victory, stood. “Call Simon.”
Jules sighed. “Okay.”
The three of them arrived just after nine. Mandy was adorable in a short denim skirt with a wide pink belt and a crisp white blouse with shoulder pads. Jules, dressed in a sweatshirt with filthy cuffs, and jeans she’d owned since junior high, wondered if she should have spruced herself up a bit–then thought, Nah.
Simon’s eyes were wide as he took in the scene: loud music (Paradise by Styx), kids drinking and making out, the air thick with dope, beer bottles everywhere, ashtrays stuffed with butts. It was the first party he’d ever gone to without his grandfather, and as he followed Jules across the room, he felt clumsy and out of place. All the other kids seemed so much older; so sophisticated, so comfortable with themselves, laughing and flirting with an ease he couldn’t imagine.
“Isn’t this horrible?” Jules asked. “Only good thing is the music.”
Simon, distracted, shrugged.
“I’ve met all Mandy’s friends, but they all kind of look alike, and I don’t remember who is who. Otherwise I’d introduce you. Ha, just kidding. You don’t want to meet them. Bunch of conformists. Can’t think for themselves. See? See how they all kind of look the same?”
What Simon saw was a collection of kids who were all dressed the right way and saying the right things. No one looked anxious or unhappy. Everyone’s hair was perfect.
“Aren’t they gross?”
She was waiting for an answer, so he said, “Why does Mandy like hanging out with them?”
“She just wants to be part of the In Crowd, and I don’t know why. They pressure her into doing stuff she doesn’t want to do. Like, she always drinks when she’s at a party, even though she thinks beer is disgusting and fattening, and she smokes even though she hates the way it makes her hair and her breath smell.”
“Mandy smokes pot?”
“When she’s at a party she does. Okay, see that guy?” Jules pointed across the room to a boy with dark, carefully-styled hair, and high cheekbones, puffing on a cigarette with adolescent nonchalance. “That’s Brent. The guy Mandy likes.”
Simon could see why: Brent was tall and broad shouldered like a grown man; he even had chin stubble. Three girls hovered around him, swishing their hair and giggling appreciatively at everything he said.
“See how Mandy is staring at him? She’s gone.” Jules shook her head. “That’s the real reason we came tonight. She knew Brent would be here. But Brent is going out with Ashley. See the one who’s practically sitting on his lap?”
“Uh huh.”
“Ashley is head cheerleader. Mandy tried out for cheerleading, but didn’t make the cut, because Ashley hates her and got everyone to vote against her.”
“How come Ashley hates her?”
“I think she’s jealous of how pretty Mandy is. I mean, yeah, Ashley is pretty too. But she’s the kind of girl, you wonder what she looks like without all that makeup. See that guy sitting in the chair across from Mandy? In the green shirt?”
Simon nodded.
“That’s Ryan. And the girl next to him, with the real puffy hair? That’s his girlfriend, Jessica. All they do is fight, have sex, and get drunk. Guess who Ryan’s best friend is.”
“So Mandy only hangs out with them because of Brent?”
“She’s trapped. If she ever said anything to them about them being assholes or whatever, they’d tell Brent, and he’d be pissed. And that would be the end of Mandy’s chances of going out with him.”
“That’s so stupid.”
“I know.” Jules lowered her voice. “Mandy is still a virgin, but I bet if she winds up with Brent, she’ll give it up for him. What a waste. His whole school career has been devoted to breaking in as many girls as he can. I heard him say that once, that was the exact phrase he used. When I told Mandy, she didn’t believe me. She said I must have heard wrong.”
Simon couldn’t help envying the guy’s skill; all three girls with their tight, low cut t-shirts, were hanging on to his every word, and counting Mandy, that was four. Four chicks.
Jules went on, “Seems like when you’re a guy, once your hormones take over, your life become one big quest to get laid. Right?”
Simon reddened. Talking to Tim was one thing; but with Jules… he didn’t know how to respond.
She laughed. “I know guys are wired to want it. It’s how species succeed.”
“Don’t you want it?”
“No. None of that stuff interests me in the slightest.”
“Maybe one day it will.”
“That’s what Mandy always says. ’Eh, she’s probably right. But for now, I’m glad I’m not all caught up in it. It makes people do the dumbest things.” She sat on the bottom step of the staircase and when Simon sat next to her, she tipped her head at Mandy. “Look, this is what she always does… ”
They watched Mandy accept a beer from Ryan, and Jules said, “She’ll take one tiny sip, then she’ll make this little face… watch… ”
Sure enough, Mandy raised the bottle to her lips, and then pulled it away immediately, her nose wrinkling at the bitter taste.
“She’ll do whatever it takes to fit in,” Jules said.
Jessica asked Mandy, “Who’s that kid talking to Jules? He looks like a total geek.”
“That’s Simon. He lives next door to us.”
“Never seen him at school,” Ryan said.
“He goes to a private school.”
“He a fag?”
“What? No! He’s new. He just moved here.”
“He looks like a fag.” Ryan took a swig of beer.
Mandy looked away. Jules is right, my friends are assholes. Except Brent. Her gaze filtered through the crowd and landed on him; holding a beer in one hand and stroking Ashley’s waist with the other. If only he…
“Earth to Mandy,” Ryan broke into her thoughts.
“I said, Is that doofus porking your sister?”
“No! They’re just friends.”
“God, Ryan, you are so gross,” Jessica said. But she didn’t pull away as he threw his arm around her shoulder. It was only when he cupped one of her breasts that she shoved him. “Pig.”
Embarrassed, Mandy glanced down. There was nothing romantic about Ryan’s gesture. Half the guys at the school had grabbed Jessica’s breasts; not out of any feelings for her, but just so they could say they did. Mandy thought of her own breasts, not big like Jessica’s, but firm and smooth, and decided that no guy would be allowed to touch them unless he really appreciated them.
“I need another brew,” Ryan announced.
“Get me one, too,” Jessica said.
“Shit, Jess,” Randy said, “you drink as much as me.”
“I even had some of my mom’s highball before you picked me,” Jessica bragged.
“Cool.” Ryan tipped his head at Mandy. “Want one?”
“Not yet, thanks.”
“Okay. Be back.”
As he walked past Jules and Simon, Ryan turned back and mouthed the word LOSER! to Jessica, who snorted a boozy laugh. Mandy’s eyes met Simon’s, and she smiled; felt guilty and ashamed.
“That your sister’s new boyfriend?” a voice behind Mandy said, and when she turned, her heart skipped about ten beats.
“Oh! Hi. Um. What?”
Brent grinned and took a long, slow drink of his beer, savoring her nervous blush. “So, Mandy,” he said.
Her response, “Yes?” was prompt, eager.
“How you doing?”
“I’m good. Um. How are you doing?”
Now he took a long, slow drag of his joint. “Not bad. You know, hanging in there.”
“Yeah,” she said. “I am too. I mean… ” Ugh, I sound like a moron! “Hanging in there.”
He sat on the couch next to her. “How’d you do on that algebra test?”
She shook her head. “Horrible. I don’t understand half of what Mr. Kelly says.”
Brent laughed. “That’s okay. Girls are never good at math.”
“How did you do?”
“I aced it. That’s like, my only good subject. I suck at everything else.” He laughed again, took another toke, then offered the joint to her.
She hoped he wouldn’t notice her hand was shaking as she took it; she hoped she wouldn’t choke or cough or look like she didn’t smoke all the time. To think that she was putting her lips where his had been… ! She took a delicate, shallow puff, and handed it back to him.
But he pushed it back at her. “Come on, that was nothing.”
Reluctantly, she took another hit. She pictured the smoke filling her lungs, and thought about that diseased lung on exhibit at the Museum of Science and how she and her sisters said every single time, Why would anyone smoke? It’s so bad for you!
“One more,” he urged. “Like you mean it. Or else my feelings’ll be hurt.”
Another, and this time she inhaled as deep as she could, holding the smoke in before releasing it. “Well,” she smiled. “I would never want to hurt your feelings.”
He reclaimed the joint, and she couldn’t take her eyes off his lips, now on the very same place on the whole entire planet where her lips had just been. Like some kind of cosmic kiss. Like some kind of... wait, what?
“The other thing I wanted to tell you,” he went on, “is that you look smokin’ hot tonight.”
“I do?”
“Shit, yeah. You’re the hottest lookin’ girl here.”
“I am?” Please let him really be saying this, please don’t be that I’m so stoned that I’m imagining it. “Thanks.” Boldly, she reached for the joint and had another hit. “And obviously you’re the best-looking guy here.” She laughed. “Ob-vee-uss-lee.”
“Ob-vee-uss-lee,” he agreed, and laughed too. His hand somehow wound up on her knee, and gave it a squeeze.
Jules, watching the dynamics from across the room, said to Simon, “She refuses to admit that the only reason she likes him is because he’s good looking. I’ve never heard her say he’s smart or funny or does volunteer work, you know? Just that he’s so hunky. But she keeps saying there’s more to him than that, and that I won’t understand until it happens to me.”
Simon didn’t answer, lost in thought as he looked around: God, that girl is sexy... That girl has great tits... That one has such a great ass... Jesus, that girl’s jeans are so tight, it’s like they’re painted on... ! Jules would be pissed if she knew he was sitting there with the most unbelievable erection...
“What time is it?” she asked abruptly.
“What time is it? You have your watch on, right?”
“Oh. Um. Yeah.” He pushed up his sleeve and looked. “Ten of ten.”
“So we’ve been here almost an hour. That’s good enough.” She stood.
He looked up in dismay. I can’t get up right now, everyone’ll see... “Wait.”
Her expression of annoyance was enough to settle things down, and he stood. “It’s just so crazy here,” he said.
“You don’t want to stay, do you?”
“Come on.” She led him over to where Mandy and Brent were giggling about something. “Simon and I are ready to go.”
Mandy looked up. “Ready to go? We just got here!”
“We’ve been here almost an hour.”
Mandy saw the look of disapproval cross Brent’s face, and she took another drag, the biggest one yet. “No. I wanna stay.”
“You kids go. I’ll drive her home,” Brent said.
“Oh good idea,” Jules said. “And when I get pulled over by the cops because I don’t know how to drive because I’m only fifteen, I’ll tell him it was your idea.”
For some reason, it struck Mandy as funny, the idea of Jules and Simon driving home, and she laughed. “If a cop pulls you over you can tell him about Dostee… Dostev… what’s his name?”
“Dostoyevsky,” Jules said sternly. She took the joint and handed it back to Brent. “Thanks for getting my sister stoned. That’s awesome.”
“I am not stoned! Just because I couldn’t remember… that guy’s name. DostoyEVSKY.”
She looked back at Brent, and was dismayed when he said, “Maybe we can get together sometime, Mandy, when you’re not babysitting.”
Jules covered her heart with one hand. “Ooh, that really hurt my feelings, Brent.”
He glared, and went back to stand next to Ashley, slipping his arm around her waist and kissing her on the lips.
Mandy turned on Jules: “I can’t believe…why did you…why would you make fun of him like that?”
“Make fun of him? He called Simon and me babies.” To Simon she said, “Isn’t he just the dreamiest?”
Mandy, straining to hear what Brent was saying to Ashley, hissed, “Shut up.”
Simon asked timidly, “Is she okay to drive? If she’s stoned?”
Mandy’s protest, “I am not stoned!” was loud and caused some of the other kids to look over and laugh. Horrified, she covered her mouth.
“Bye, Mandy!” Ashley said, and everyone laughed some more.
Roasting in humiliation, and now feeling dizzy and a little nauseous, Mandy stood and headed for the door.
“Get our coats,” Jules instructed Simon, and hurried after her sister.
Simon went into the bedroom, frantically digging through the pile on the bed in Ashley’s room until he found his ski parka, Jules’ baseball jacket, and Mandy’s fancy black one with the dark red scarf. He knew Mandy was mortified and Jules was furious, but he couldn’t help thinking that his first party with a bunch of high school kids had been pretty cool.
“Just drive slow,” Jules said as Mandy eased away from the curb. “But not too slow.”
“I’m fine.” Mandy opened the window, hoping it would make her feel better.
“Are you going to puke?”
“No.” She drove slowly onto the main street. She was angry at Jules, but felt mellow, too. Okay, maybe she was stoned. But just a little bit. She was just a little bit stoned. “Brent came over to talk to me,” she said. “I didn’t go over to talk to him. He came over to me.”
“He knows you like him.”
“So what? So what if he knows?”
“He’s crap, Mandy.”
“He is not crap!” She misjudged the distance to the red light, and by the time she stopped, she was in the middle of the street.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” Jules snapped. “I seriously don’t want to have to talk to some cop about Dostoyevsky.”
“I’m fine.
“What does Dostoyevsky even have to do with any of this?” Simon asked from the back seat.
“Forget the cop,” Jules said. “I’m more scared of what Mom would say.” She turned in her seat to look at Simon. “When Mandy is under the spell of the Amazing Brent, it’s like she loses her mind, and she becomes my responsibility. If we get pulled over because Mandy is stoned, Mom will…”
“Knock it off, Jules,” Mandy said. “We’re not going to get pulled over.”
But she was relieved when they pulled safely into their driveway a few minutes later. “See? I’m fine.” She turned off the engine, and dug around in her purse for a mint, which she popped into her mouth. “Mom’ll never know.”
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© 2019 by Robin Stratton