32. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Dec 30, 2019
“What’s with you these days?” Lisbeth asked, hurrying to keep up with Allie. “You always hated school, and lately it seems like you can’t wait to get there.”
Allie forced herself to slow down. It was Tuesday—ceramics day! “Yeah, excited about school, right.” What would Mr. Guillen wear today… the black slacks that became hopelessly coated with dried clay by the end of the day? The blue ones that had not one but two torn belt loops? The tan ones with the stained knees? Once he’d shown up in jeans, and when Allie commented on it at the end of class he chuckled and told her he’d gotten in big trouble, because teachers weren’t allowed to wear jeans. But you’re the art teacher, you get dirty, she’d said, and he just laughed; Doesn’t matter. If I didn’t get in trouble for wearing jeans, it would be or something else.
“Allie, I asked you a question!”
“I said Did you finish that report last night, the one you said was due today?”
“Oh. No. I’ll finish it at lunch. Lisbeth, can’t you walk any faster?”
“Clay is a fun medium, but it’s a difficult medium, too,” Mr. Guillen told his students. As he spoke he was forming a ball, and then he put it on the table and began to flatten it. With a rolling pin he’d swiped years ago from the home ecroom, he pressed the clay thinner and thinner. “Last week we made pots,” he reminded them. “You made a ball, you stuck your thumb in it, then smoothed out the edges. That was easy. But another way to manipulate clay is to create what’s called relief. You take a flat surface and add dimension.”
The class watched as he used his fingers to make peaks and dents. He took another piece of clay, tore off bits and, working in silence for a few minutes, formed a shape, trimmed the base square, and held up what looked like a ceramic tile; in the center was the profile of a golden retriever whose fur had been authentically defined with a pointy tool. The few students who appreciated his talent, murmured in admiration. “Of course you’ll want to spend a lot more time on yours,” he went on. The nerdy-looking girl that Allie always sat next to gasped when he mashed up his creation. “Okay, clay is in the back.”
“That was such a good dog,” nerdy girl said to Allie. “God, I would love to have been able to do that, and he just squishes it into a ball like it’s nothing.”
“It was great, but he didn’t score and slip it,” Allie said. “It would have come off in the kiln, probably.” She stood and headed to the back of the room with the rest of the kids; she could feel his eyes on her, and when she turned, he was watching her. While she worked on her project, she tried to come up with anew excuse to stay after class to talk to him.
“Can’t see you tonight,” Preston said. “I have to go to dinner with my parents.”
“Oh.” Lisbeth waited, hoping he’d say Unless you’d care to join us… When he didn’t, she said, “Okay, well have fun.”
“Yeah, nothing more fun than being with my parents. My brother and sister will be there too, with their spouses and kids. I dread it.”
“Why? What’s so bad?”
“They’re just so boring. All they talk about is business and the kids.”
Business, Lisbeth knew, meant whatever his family did in the financial industry; stock investing or real estate or money markets or something, she honestly didn’t know. Preston hated to even think about what he did in Boston five days a week. Why don’t you quit? she had asked, and he said it wasn’t an option yet, but that once he had enough money, he was going to buy a recording studio and start a jazz label. And, he said, if his family didn’t like it and disowned him, he didn’t even care, because by then he'd be making a shitload of money on his own. Lisbeth, who couldn’t imagine what it would be like for a family to kick you out of their lives for following your dream, couldn’t think of anything to say except, “Okay, have fun,” again.
They hung up and she thought about all the times she’d had supper with Kevin and his family. His mom’s specialty was macaroni and cheese from scratch… so heavy and greasy that sometimes Lissie went home with a stomach ache. “This skinny girl loves my mac and cheese!” his mom would beam. And sometimes they’d rent a video and watch it on the VCR; distributed on the couch and Mr. Chauncey’s Barcalounger, they watched Ordinary People and Private Benjamin and a bunch of black and white classics.
Once she and Preston had been out to dinner and a family had come in—a mother and father and daughter, who was about Preston’s age, and Preston had put his menu in front of his face and whispered, “Shit, we have to leave.” And they did; as soon as the family was seated, Preston signaled to the waiter, signed something, and out they went. “Why did we have to go, who were those people?” Lisbeth asked. Preston’s response, “Boring friends of my parents,” didn’t satisfy her, but from there he’d taken her to a coffee shop to see a jazz guitarist, and it had been fun.
It started to gnaw at her, and the more she didn’t meet his parents, the more she wanted to. So one night, lying in his arms after making love in the fancy hotel in Boston he sometimes took her to, she asked him if she ever would.
He shook his head. “I told you they’re boring as shit.”
“Don’t you want me to meet them?”
“Why would I want that? I’m doing you a big favor, Lissie, honest.”
“But… I mean… I have to meet them sometime… don’t I?”
“Why… why do I have to meet them?”
“Because… ” she hadn’t expected to have to say the words. “I mean, because you and I… I mean, we’re together… aren’t we?”
He kissed the top of her head. “Right now we are,” he said.
She should have dropped it. She almost did. She shut her eyes, inhaled his fragrance, and tried to convince herself it was fine. Just leave it alone. He’s a great guy. But her stomach was jumping and she felt a little nauseated. “Do you want me not to meet them, or… or do you want them not to meet me?” she heard herself ask.
He sighed. Took a long time to answer, and finally said, “Lissie, you have to understand something.”
She waited while he collected the words, knowing this was not going to be good. “What.”
“My family is… we’re like all rich people. We… we associate with certain people. A certain kind of person.”
She propped her head up and stared at him.
“It’s nothing personal, honest. But, like, my parents knew they’d get married from the time they were kids. It was two rich families coming together. It was understood.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“You can only date rich people?”
“But… you don’t have to do what they tell you. Do you?”
“If I want to stay in their good graces I do.”
“What do you mean?”
“My dad would fire me. He’d kick me out of the house. I’d have to get a regular job somewhere, and I’d never be able to make enough money to buy a recording studio. So yeah, I do what I’m told.”
Now she sat up, still staring. “You’re serious.”
“They can’t know about me, because I’m poor.”
He tried to pull her back into his arms. “I swear to God, Lissie, it’s nothing personal.”
“So do you already know who you’re going to marry?”
He let go of her; shut his eyes and put his hands behind his back. “More or less.”
“That girl at the restaurant that we saw?”
“She’s one possibility.”
She sat there, frozen in shock, and then got up and started dressing. Her hands were shaking as she pulled on nylons and snapped her bra.
“Lissie, don’t be upset. I didn’t make the rules.”
“I can’t believe you’re telling me this, and that you’re so calm! How can you think, in this day and age, that this is okay? That it’s okay to marry someone you don’t love? What if you get fixed up with someone you can’t stand?”
“That’s what happened to my dad. He hated my mother. It didn’t matter. So he screws around on her. She knows it, but it doesn’t bother her, because she stopped having sex with him years ago. Come back to bed.”
She pulled on her dress, then her coat. “Please take me home, Preston.” She didn’t bother to try to stop her tears. “I can’t believe this. This is so fucking unbelievable.”
He sat up; had never heard her swear. “Lissie. Come on! We can still have fun! They don’t expect me to get married for a few more years. We can—”
But she was already out the door. How she would love to have been one of those women who emerged from a hotel and hailed a cab… but she only had a few dollars, and being in a cab would have terrified her. So she waited, and he came out a few minutes later. One look at her face told him there was no point in trying to talk, so he had the valet bring his car, and he took her home. Somehow she held back the tears until he pulled into her driveway. Then he took a stab at it: “Lisbeth… I’m so sorry. If I could change things, I would. I know this is insane and like something from the 1950s. I know that. But this is the game I have to play for a little while, if I want to buy my studio. That’s my dream. You understand that, right? A dream like that? You have a dream, too… ”
She could see that it actually made sense to him. She tried to feel sorry for him… poor rich boy… but the whole thing just felt like a nightmare, and it was so stupid, and she was so mad at herself for not realizing right away what a fake he was, and even though Kevin had broken her heart, at least he was real. “Good luck,” she said.
Jules called her as soon as she heard the news. “I want to break his arm,” she said.
“No, it’s okay.”
“Are you devastated?”
Lisbeth sighed. “I’m depressed, but… not about Preston. About Kevin. It’s like… the pain from that feels so fresh. I’ll never find someone like him, Jules. I miss him so much, still.” She broke down, and Jules, listening helplessly on the other end, could do nothing.
The first time that Simon mentioned he was dating someone, Jules felt a pang. They were driving home for Thanksgiving, and as she listened to him describe her—petite, blonde, funny, nice, played the cello—she inspected her reaction. Jealousy? Yes, for sure. She was used to Simon being in love with her. Scared that his relationship would get serious and he’d change? Not want to hang out with her and her sisters? Yeah, that, that was the biggest thing.
“… very gifted,” he was saying. “She sits in first chair.”
“First chair… where?”
“In the orchestra. Each section is divided into chairs, and the best musician in each section sits in the first chair. They always have these, like, mini battles. Challenges, they’re called. And they try to advance to first chair. It’s very prestigious.”
“What are her grades like?”
“Seriously. Is she smart or just good in bed?”
“She gets mostly A’s, for your information.”
“Well,” Jules said. “She sounds nice.”
“How are things with Michael? Did you guys… pick up where you left off?”
“He’s fine,” she answered with a robust enthusiasm she didn’t feel; for some reason she wanted him to think she and Michael were as happy as Simon and his girlfriend. “Busy with this semester’s production. But he’s fine. Things are great.”
“Be happy for Simon,” Allie told her that night.
“I’m happy. I’m just… it’s weird. To think of him with someone else. I mean with someone.” Before her sisters could comment on her faux pas, she went on, “What if he marries her and forgets all about us?”
“He’s not going to marry Cindy,” Allie said.
“How do you know?”
“I can tell by the look on his face. He’s not head over heels the way Tim is with Mandy and Kevin is with Lisbe… ” Too late her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, Lissie, I’m sorry!”
Like a knife in the heart, the sudden pain. “No, it’s okay.”
Jules sighed. “All men have done is let us down,” she said.
“Having trouble with Michael?”
“He sucks.” It felt good to say it; but made her feel like an idiot, because if he was so bad, why was she so hooked on him? “Let’s have more pie.”
“It’s so fattening,” Allie said. “I’ve put so much weight on.”
“You look much better now,” Lisbeth told her. “People always say how good it is to be thin, but I really think men like women to have some meat on them.”
“This is what’s wrong with society,” Jules announced. Plop went a scoop of ice cream on her pie. “We are so ruled by what men want. What men like. It’s almost 1984 and we’re still like slaves. Emotional slaves.”
Allie nodded absently when Jules offered her ice cream, and thought about how Mr. Guillen would never make demands on her. He was such a gentle person who didn’t judge others at all; not even when one of the other kids turned in some project and it was just really really bad—he always found something redeeming about it. I wonder how he celebrated Thanksgiving. If he went to see his parents or if they don’t live around here, or what. I can ask him on Monday.
Allie was right. Simon got tired of Cindy and took up with Fawn, a guitarist in his voice class. Then it was Eileen, an “older woman” who worked in the dean’s office. Next it was someone who came to a Chicken Slax gig and invited him to go home with her. Then Sasha, a sophisticated Russian student who spoke little English but who, he told Allie, played Dvorak with incredible passion.
“You having fun?” Allie asked wryly.
He shrugged. “It’s rock and roll.”
“Don’t you wish you had someone steady?”
“Well, what are you looking for?”
“Someone like Jules. But with your looks,” he added with a grin.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That you’re gorgeous.”
“No, the other part. You don’t like my personality?”
“I love it.”
“So why wouldn’t you want my personality, too?”
“Because the only one with your looks and your personality is you, and let’s face it, you’re pretty preoccupied these days.”
She was startled; had she been so obvious?
“So who is he?”
“Who is who?”
“Come on, Allie. Jesus, I tell you everything.”
She hesitated. Mr. Guillen’s sweet face came into her mind; his dark sparkly eyes, his gentle smile. To tell anyone about him would… it just didn’t feel right. It would sound like she had a crush on her teacher. And it was more than that, it was so much more than that. “It’s nobody,” she said.