• robinstratton23

31. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Feb 26


MANDY AND TIM were up first. After a quick shower together and a handful of dry cereal, they left quietly to walk to the lake. Half an hour later Jules was noisy as she cracked open a diet Dr. Pepper and started digging through the refrigerator in search of bagels. Simon appeared a moment later.


“On the counter,” he said.


She looked and sure enough, there was the bag. “Oh! Thanks.” She took one out and dropped both halves into the toaster. “Make you one too?”


“Yes, please.” From the top shelf of the refrigerator he took the carton of orange juice and poured himself a glass. “Soda first thing in the morning. Gross.”


“You used to drink it too, Simon. Diet Coke. You forget?”


“No. I remember. Still gross, though.”


“I think juice is gross.”


“Coffee,” Allie said. “Why is there no coffee?”


“Just about to make some.” Simon held up the carton, but she wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “Juice is gross.”


“Ha!” said Jules. “Told you.”

“The boys need to go for a walk while the girls clean up,” Allie announced after lunch.

Everyone looked at her, surprised. Jules said, “Hey, who died and left you boss?”


“I was going to take a walk with Mandy,” Tim said. “Is that…”


“Mandy will be in the kitchen cleaning up. Go.”


Meekly, the boys headed out. Allie waited until she knew they were out of earshot, then turned on Mandy. “You’re glowing. What’s going on?”


Mandy couldn’t hold back a smile, but she kept her word to not say anything yet. “I just love spending a whole night with Tim. There’s nothing like it in the whole world…falling asleep in his arms…hearing him snore…and waking up and he’s there…and he smells so good…like a man…there is nothing sweeter than the smell of a man in the morning!”


It made Jules’ heart ache. Michael didn’t have a roommate, and she’d spent lots of nights with him. Yeah, that masculine fragrance in the morning…the deep slow breathing…the soft hair on the chest…ache ache ache. What was he doing right this minute? Was there any chance he was thinking of her?


The others fell to talking. The biggest buzz was that Lisbeth had not only been the first sister to lose her virginity but was now the first to have had two boyfriends.


“Just think, if you and Preston get married, you won’t have to get a job, you can just be a musician,” Allie said.


“None of you will have to work,” Lisbeth said. “You can live with us in our great big mansion.”


“Are we done cleaning?” Jules asked. “I need to ask Simon something,” she said.


“Yeah, go,” said Allie.


She found him sitting on a rock near the water. “I almost don’t recognize you without your guitar,” she said. “Can I sit with you?”


“If you don’t mind getting a sore bum.” He stood and rubbed his backside. “In the movies you always see people sitting on rocks, but it’s uncomfortable as shit.”


“Boney ass,” she teased. “I have more fat.” She found a reasonably comfortable position and looked at his legs. Soft blond hair and surprisingly muscular. When had he matured? How had she not noticed? Her gaze traveled slowly up to his face and met his startled expression.

Unnerved, he sat a few feet away, on the grass. “Anyway,” he said blandly.


“Anyway.”


“I’m trying to figure out if I should call Kevin when I get home. He’s going to be so pissed at me.”


“Why?”


“That I didn’t tell him about Preston.”


“He has no right to be pissed. At you or anyone.”


“I know that. But he will be. I’ll just have to deal with it.”


“What’ll you tell him?”


“That he missed the boat with Lissie. That Preston is great.”


“Will you?”


“No, I’ll just say I don’t know what’s going on with her. Why upset him more than he is already? Poor bastard. Must be kicking himself. I bet he didn’t sleep a wink last night.”


“Serves him right,” Jules grumbled, having spent the night fantasizing about Michael showing up at the cabin with roses, hoping to be forgiven. Stupid stuff. “Hey, Simon, so…are you seeing anyone?”


“Seeing anyone?”


“Like, did you meet anyone this year? Any girls?”


“A few,” he admitted in a voice that answered her unspoken question: Yes, I slept with them.


A stab of jealousy. Of course. Why wouldn’t he? He was so sexy; shit, he was so sexy all of a sudden. “Anything serious?”


“No.” He stood. “Hey, let’s get back and see what the others are doing.”

“Okay.” Bewildered by her feelings and his reaction, she stood too. “Ow.”


“Sore bum?”


“Yeah.”


“Told you.”


Several hours later she tapped on his door. “Simon? You up?”


She heard the rustling of sheets, and then he opened the door. He was dressed in gym shorts and no shirt, and she couldn’t get over how muscular his chest was. “Hey,” she stammered.


“What’s up?”


“Um…can I come in?”


“Okay.”


She went in and sat on the bed. He shut the door and sat on the room’s only chair. “You okay?”


“It’s weird, but…I’m having trouble sleeping by myself. I’m used to being with Mandy, or my roommate at school, PJ. I guess…” she settled back a little, leaning against the wall. “I guess I’m just…lonely.”


“Jules,” he began, but stopped when she leaned forward. It was a small room, and she was close enough to put her hand on his bare thigh. He took a deep breath. “I think you’re just…a little confused.”


“A little confused,” she repeated.


He took her hand and moved it to his knee. “I don’t think you’re feeling…what you think you’re feeling. Do you know what I mean?”


“No.” Humiliated, she yanked her hand away. “Why don’t you tell me what I’m feeling.”


“You’re…I mean, I think you’re…attracted to me right now because it didn’t work out with that guy. But that’s not really how you feel. And I think we both know that if we…did anything…we’d both regret it.”


She wanted to shout, What are you talking about? You’ve been in love with me for years and everyone knows it! Furious, she stood and started to leave, but he pulled her back. “Let go of me,” she snapped.


“No. I’m not letting you leave like this. You’re still my best friend.”


When she stopped trying to get away, he stood and pulled her onto the bed. “Come on,” he said. “Talk to me.”


When his arm went around her, she broke down. “Why wouldn’t he even just call?” she sobbed. “It takes five seconds—you pick up the phone, you dial the number…”


“He probably got busy. Allie said he was working for his dad and doing a show…”


“No.” Jules pulled away. “If he wanted to see me, he would have called. He didn’t give two shits about me, Simon. I was just…like his slave for a semester. Like some pathetic, hideous…”


“You’re not pathetic or hideous. He’s an asshole. He didn’t appreciate you.”


“No, I did something wrong…I wasn’t exciting enough, or sexy enough…”


“Shut up,” Simon murmured. “You’re very exciting and very sexy.


“I feel like a dull blob.”


“You’re just feeling this way because you couldn’t get him to fall madly in love with you, and it makes you feel like you’re not worthy of love. I know how that is.”


“Sorry, but no you don’t. I appreciate the pep talk, Simon, but all the girls are crazy for you. So you have no idea how it feels to—”


“Listen. When my mother dumped me at Grandfather’s house, I thought it was my fault. I thought I’d done something bad, and that I deserved not to be left. I never told you this, because I was too embarrassed, but before we moved next door to you, Grandfather made me see a shrink.”


“He did?”


“Yeah. I was such a sad kid. No friends, I never laughed or played. Grandfather was really worried. But it helped. It made me realize it was my mother’s problem, not mine.”


“Yeah, but…”


“Michael is just so into himself. He’s like that idiot Mandy had a crush on. Remember?” “Just give yourself time. You’ll get over him.”


“Whatever.”


“Think you can sleep?”


“Not sure.”


“Want to sleep here? I can sleep on the floor.”


“No, I’m okay.” She stood, rubbed her eyes. Her smile was shy. “Thanks, Simon.”


“You’re welcome. I’ll see you in the morning.”


“Okay.” she slipped out. Getting into bed, she was still depressed, but mostly she was surprised by Simon. It hadn’t occurred to her he wouldn’t welcome her into his bed. She’d planned on him being too excited to even speak…he’d be nervous and stammer that he couldn’t believe how lucky he was, how he loved her and wanted to be with her all the time; all the things she’d wanted Michael to say. Rolling over onto her back, she cried a little bit more, and then lay awake for a long time, making herself miserable. It was light out when she finally fell asleep, and she woke just a few hours later to the sounds of activity in the kitchen. She scrambled out of bed, went into the bathroom to wash up, and joined the others.


“Blueberry muffins from scratch,” Preston was saying.


“Not from scratch,” Lisbeth confessed. “It’s a mix.”


He helped himself to another one. “I never get to have anything from a mix, we have a chef. I officially like them from a mix better.”


“Lissie always adds stuff to the mix. Like vanilla and nuts and brown sugar,” Mandy said.


“They’re ridiculously delicious.” Tim broke one in half and offered some to Mandy, watching her lips as she leaned close to bite into it. He kissed her while she was chewing, and she giggled.


The old Mandy would have complained about calories, Jules thought, amazed. She took a muffin too, and washed the first bite down with a gulp of diet Dr. Pepper.


Allie, munching on some spongy popcorn leftover from the night before, said she wanted to go swimming and lie out in the sun.


“Me too.” Simon took another muffin. “As soon as I have ten more of these.”


Lisbeth laughed. “It’s like you guys have never had blueberry muffins before.”


“Not like yours. Yours are the best.” Preston took Lisbeth’s hand, and some kind of signal passed between them. She took a hurried sip of her tea, and they disappeared down the hall.


“Yeah, okay, we’ll see you later,” Jules said. Seeing her sister happy made her happy. Being with them all made her happy. Cheer washed through her. I don’t need him, she thought, for the millionth time. But this time, maybe, she meant it.


Lisbeth hit Play on the boom box, and “Next Time” by Food of the Gods blared. She and Preston settled down to shuck corn, and Mandy molded burgers. Tim got the grill going, and when Allie, Simon, and Jules came back from swimming, they pitched in and made a huge salad. For several hours they sat at the picnic table in the front yard and ate and laughed, but then the sun went behind clouds and it started to pour, so they moved to the screened-in porch and played poker with the cards Tim brought. When it got dark out, Lisbeth and Mandy went into the kitchen to cut up veggies for kabobs. Jules opened a bag of cheese curls and a container of guacamole, and the unlikely combo was a hit. Then, after dinner, Simon found a stack of old games in the den, and shouted, “Twister!”


They stayed up very late and didn’t get up the next day until noon. Moving sluggishly and without much talking they washed sheets and towels and cleaned the bathrooms and thought about how much they wished they could stay just one more day and night. Lisbeth made grilled cheese sandwiches, and before long they were sitting down with the last of the chips and dip and beer. Simon announced that he couldn’t eat one more bite and moved over to the couch; picked up his guitar and with greasy fingers, strummed a few songs they all knew the words to.


Jules said goodbye to her co-workers at the pewter buffing factory, feeling sorry for them. But when they wished her luck with Michael, she felt sorry for herself. I’m not even going to give him the time of day, she told herself. It’s over. I’m done with him.


“World’s oldest student.” Lisbeth felt like crying. At seventeen, she would be repeating her sophomore year. “So embarrassing.”

“Better than being in over your head,” Mom said, and Jules, standing in the doorway of the kitchen, added, “And it’s not like you’re dumb—everyone knows you were sick.”


“And I’ll be there, too!” Allie said excitedly. “High school! I’m so nervous!”


“My baby in high school,” Mom couldn’t get over it.


“Look out, world!” Mandy came up from behind, and pushed Jules ahead of her, into the kitchen. Five April females swapped smiles, marveling at Allie’s advanced age, feeling grateful for Lisbeth’s health, and trying not to be sad that Jules would be going back to college in a few days. On the little television next to the toaster, Jerry Lewis pleaded with viewers to send money to find a cure for muscular dystrophy.


Simon helped Jules unpack her stuff in the room she’d be sharing with Dawn. Dawn’s things were already on the bed and in the closet, but she wasn’t around; probably already with Charles, who was rooming with Nathaniel. Jules tried to ignore her slamming heart as she put some clothes in a drawer. What was it going to be like, to see Michael again?


“Last box,” Simon announced, setting it on the floor. He wiped some sweat off his forehead with the back of his wrist. “Want me to help you unpack?”


“No way, you’ve already done more than enough,” she said. Impulsively, she put her arms around him and rested her face against his chest. “How can I ever thank you for everything you’ve done for me?”


He returned the embrace, kissed the top of her head. “Forget about it.”


“No.” Shutting her eyes, she luxuriated in their sweet friendship. When she opened them, she saw Michael standing in the doorway. Startled, she released Simon and stepped back.


He turned, saw Michael, and said to her, “I’ll talk to you later, Jules. Call me anytime.”


“Thanks, Simon, I will.” Returning Michael’s steady gaze, she thought how wonderful it would be if he was jealous; if he grabbed her arms and demanded, What the hell…? but he didn’t. In the moment it took Simon to cross the room and let himself out, gently shutting the door behind him, she’d produced a convincing smile. “So, how was your summer?” Well done, she thought; way to play this. Don’t let him know he got to you.


“Good. Busy.”


‘You all moved in?” Catching sight of herself in the mirror, she decided she looked okay; her light tan brought out a pink glow in her cheeks, and her hair, curly from the humidity, tumbled down her shoulders. “How is your room in the new dorm, is it nice?”


Michael didn’t answer any of her questions as he sat on the bed. “Jules, I had so much going on over the summer. I was going to call you, but…”


Yeah, spare me, Jules wanted to say, but instead she just shrugged. “I know. The time flew.” Then she launched into a glorified version of her summer, making it sound as if she hadn’t had a single moment to herself, either. As she talked, she kept moving around the room, putting shirts and sweaters on hangers, books on shelves, and plugging in and setting her alarm clock. Michael, listening and watching her, could have had no idea that her heart was pounding so hard she could barely breathe. It was incredible to see him again; she felt hot all over—wanting him, furious with him, delighted that he’d somehow found out her new room number and had walked all the way across campus to visit.


When she couldn’t stand the sound of her empty prattle for one more second, she sat next to him and asked about his summer production of Annie, all the while trying to decide if she should go back with him or, when he tried to seduce her, laugh in his face and tell him she wasn’t going to spend another year jumping through hoops for him.


But his response was to lean over and kiss her. “I missed you,” she heard herself say. And that, as they say, was pretty much that.


“Dawn wants me to read this,” Charles grumbled without saying hello. He handed Jules a heavy blue book with a Möbius strip on the cover. “How many times have I told her I’m a philosopher? I have no need or time for math.”


“This isn’t just a math book, you moron. The author quotes Plato, Aristotle, Kant…correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t those guys dabble in philosophizing?”


“You know I hate that word.” Charles’ grimace was distinctly affectionate. Jules wondered how often they’d seen each other over the summer. Probably every weekend. Probably every single weekend. They’d probably taken long walks, gone to museums, talked about their future…


“Jules,” said Nathaniel, “they’ve been going at this for half an hour. Help me mediate.”


“Seriously, Dawn.” Charles flipped through the book until he found what he was looking for. He stabbed the page with an indignant finger. “There. See? Quantum mechanics. Case closed.”


“Grow up. If you read this book you might be able to get through Gödel, Escher, Bach without stopping when you get to Gödel.”


“That’s when I always stop too,” Jules admitted. She took the book from Charles and saw that it had been written by the science editor for the Boston evening news station. “This actually looks good.”


“What book? Is it really about girdles?” Nathaniel asked.


“I don’t even know why Gödel is in there,” Charles complained.


What book?” Nathaniel demanded in an insistent, urgent voice that made them laugh.


Gödel, Escher, Bach,” Dawn said. “I can’t believe you’ve never read it. And you call yourself an intellectual snob!”


“I’ve never heard of it. Let’s go out right now and I’ll get a copy.”


They jumped to their feet and headed for the nearest bookstore.


“Do you mind me telling people you’re my sister?” Lisbeth asked Allie as they set off on the first day of school.


“Why would I mind?”


Lisbeth didn’t answer right away, then said, “We’re just…really different. No one will believe we’re sisters.”


“Well I’m going to tell everyone. I’ll say My sister has a rich boyfriend.”


Lisbeth laughed. “Don’t be annoyed that any of your teachers who had Jules will compare you to her. Her grades were legendary.”


“Wait’ll they see I’m a C-student.”


“You’ll be fine. You’ll get As in all your art classes.”


“Right.” Allie was excited and scared at the same time. She’d chosen her outfit so carefully the night before, then she’d spilled coffee on her shirt and had to change into something she didn’t like as much. “I’m psyched about my ceramics class. I only wish…” Sometimes she didn’t mind that she’d lost her friends; she didn’t miss the sick feeling she used to get when she joined in with their cattiness. But it was so much easier to belong to a group. Safety in numbers and all that. On her own, she found it difficult to implement her girl tricks and had, in fact, barely made eye contact with any boys since Zeke had died. All those little gestures she’d perfected that attracted attention to her hair or mouth or legs or breasts…!


“You’ll meet all new kids,” Lisbeth assured her.


“I know.”


“Let me see your schedule.”


Allie took it out of her purse and handed it over.


“Okay, your first class is in 202. I’ll walk you. The thing to keep in mind is,” Lisbeth said as they went inside, “the rooms are laid out the way they were in junior high, but there are two floors. The 100s are downstairs…”


“Let me guess—the 200s are upstairs?”


“Ha! And you were worried about your grades!” Lisbeth handed her schedule back to her. The bell rang, signaling that it was time to get to homeroom. Putting her hand on Allie’s arm, Lisbeth asked, “I was scared to death my first day. But you’re okay? You’ll be able to find your locker?”


Allie made a face. “Duh.”


Lisbeth gave her a little shove. “Try to stay out of trouble.”


“You too.” Allie watched her disappear into the swarm of kids running to homeroom and sighed. How can Jules love school so much? It’s just the pits!


Throughout the day she saw a lot of kids she knew from junior high, but didn’t exchange conversation beyond Hi, did you have a good summer? When a lot of kids told her how sorry they were to hear about Zeke, she was surprised; hadn’t realized so many of them knew. She and Lisbeth had the same lunch period and sat together.


“Everyone is asking how Kevin is,” Lisbeth said unhappily. “I keep having to say we broke up. Over and over.”


“But you have Preston now,” Allie said.


“Yeah, but Preston is…Preston isn’t Kevin.”


Allie started to say, “Forget Kevin,” when they bell rang, and they scooped up the wax paper from the tuna sandwiches Lisbeth had made that morning, threw it in the trash barrel, said “See you later!” and went their separate ways again.


For Allie, the afternoon dragged. Finally, it was time for her last class—ceramics. The classroom was chaotic, with kids talking loudly and taking their time about settling into their seats. Allie could tell in less than a second which ones were serious and which ones were there for an easy A. She noticed a couple of older boys eyeing her as she looked for a place to sit, but she was so happy to be in an art room that she barely acknowledged them; she loved the smell of the clay and the dusty smocks, and the floor that looked as if it hadn’t been swept like the other classrooms. An artsy-looking girl with long frizzy hair was sitting at a table near the front, so Allie sat next to her. The teacher, whose name she knew from her schedule was Mr. Guillen, didn’t seem at all concerned about the noise level as he chatted with some of the students about Return of the Jedi, which apparently they’d all seen over the summer. It was only when another teacher stuck her head in and told them to be quiet, her stern glare including Mr. Guillen, that he said, “Sorry, Miss Symonds,” and stepped to the front of the room. “In your seats, everyone.”


Allie saw that he had lime green paint on his shoes, a smudge of white paint on cheek, and his dark curly hair needed trimming.


“What you learn here depends on how much you’re willing to learn,” he said in a tone that suggested he’d memorized his intro and delivered it every semester. “A lot of people say they’re not creative, but that’s not true. Everyone is creative. You just need to try new things and discover what you’re good at. Ceramics, like all the arts, is about form. Lines. Style. Grace.”


“Basically, we’re going to be making clay pots, right?” one boy asked, and everyone laughed.

“If that’s what you want to make, then yeah. But even a clay pot can have style. It can be ugly, but it can still have integrity. If it believes in itself.”


The boy glanced at his tablemates and they smirked. Mr. Guillen saw the look and didn’t seem to mind. In that moment it was as if Allie was reading his thoughts: I know you’re bored, and I don’t give a damn. Art is important whether or not you recognize that. She sensed in him almost a feeling of pity—that they lacked something, that they didn’t understand, and she appreciated his passion. His dark eyes sparkled; he had clay under his fingernails. She realized she was nodding at him; I get it.


He saw her and when he smiled, it was as if he was saying, At least you know what I’m talking about! it was as if he’d actually spoken the words. She felt something explode inside, sending out hot, thrilling sparks all the way to her fingertips and toes. Bathed in sudden rapture, she smiled back.

182 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
© 2019 by Robin Stratton