33. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Dec 6, 2019
Tim came by on Christmas day, celebrated a little bit with the Aprils, then took Mandy out. They drove to his apartment because his roommate was out of town for the holidays, and as soon as they got inside, he handed her a little box.
Heart pounding, she opened it up, and there was the ring; a crown nestled between velvet cushions. Mandy, who’d been expecting the pair of earrings she’d admired in a shop window the week before, let out a gasp.
“Is that yes? You already said yes over the summer, you can’t take it back.”
She nodded. “It’s yes! Yes! But I thought you said you wanted to wait until you had more money!”
“Who knows when that’ll be? I’m broke, I’m probably always going to be broke.” He took the ring out of the box and eased it onto her finger. “I don’t want to wait.”
He kissed her, then led her into his room. She followed, but her thoughts were a million miles away. Mom and Allie would be so excited! Lisbeth would be happy, but there’d be that sadness, too. And Jules… Jules wouldn’t like it. She’ll say I’m too young to get married, Mandy thought, returning Tim’s kisses and caresses and hoping he didn’t notice she wasn’t paying attention. Oh well, she’ll just have to be okay with it.
Jules forced a smile, hugged her oldest sister, and said congratulations. But it was as if the sun had gone out of her eyes, and for the rest of Christmas break she’d been quiet and sullen. Driving her back to school for the spring semester, he chatted away, doing his best to avoid the topic, then, when he got tired of her polite smile, he launched in. “We haven’t had a chance to talk about Mandy and Tim.”
“I was proud of you. You didn’t freak out.”
“I wanted to,” she admitted. “Mandy is only 21! No one gets married at 21 anymore. She needs to play the field. Tim is her first and only boyfriend. How can it possibly last? It’s not natural, to only be with one guy. Won’t she always wonder? I know I would.”
“I think it’s great that she found the one so fast.”
Jules sighed. “She’s going to be so different now.”
“No she isn’t. She’ll be the same.”
“She’ll be completely different, you’ll see.”
“She’ll be happy.”
“You should see Tim—he called me last night. He’s on cloud nine!”
“I know, I know,” Jules snapped. “I’m just tickled pink for everyone.”
“Well then, why are you acting like this?”
“I’m just… ” Just what? Jealous. “I’m happy for her.”
“This is about that guy you’re seeing. Michael.”
“This has nothing to do with him.”
“Why do you stay with him if he doesn’t make you happy?”
“Who says he doesn’t make me happy?”
She couldn’t say Yes and she didn’t want to say No. “Just drop it.”
“I hate this for you, Jules. I don’t understand why—”
“Just drop it. Goddammit, Simon. Mind your own business, why don’t you.”
She saw the surprise on his face; the hurt, then the anger as he gripped the wheel, eyes forward.
“Fine,” he said. “Sorry for caring about you.”
Jules scowled. She wanted to be resentful and sullen―How many times have I told him to shut up about Michael?―but shame made her stomach burn. Simon had every right to be mad. All he’s ever done is make me laugh and cheer me up when I’m down. I could ask him to go beat up Michael and he would; right now he would drive to Michael’s house and beat the crap out of him. She delivered a sigh and whimper combo, hoping he’d look at her; willed him to look at her… and read in her eyes what was in her heart.
But Simon was staring at the road ahead. The old me would have just let this go, he thought. Well no more. I’m sick of her shit. I’m just going to drop her off at the dorm and not call her for a long time. Maybe for forever.
Then suddenly her hand was on his arm, and when he glanced over, he saw her tears.
“I’m so sorry, Simon. Please please forgive me.”
He looked away. No. She has to work for it.
When he didn’t reply, she pulled her hand away and took a deep breath. “I just realized why I’m being such a bitch.”
He said quietly, “Why.”
“Because it depresses me to see other people happy.”
“Yeah. That’s how much I suck as a human.”
He pondered it, his anger fading. “I don’t think that’s it. I think you can be happy for people. I think it’s… ” he hesitated.
She waited, then said, “Go on.”
“I think you’re bummed out about Michael, and when you see people in love, it makes you realize that he’ll never… I mean, you… I just hate the way he treats you. And makes you feel about yourself.”
She sat back and stared glumly out the window. “I know.” She didn’t bother to remind Simon that they’d had this same conversation over the summer. She also didn’t tell him how much she was hoping to see Michael that night.
For the spring semester, Allie had two classes with Mr. Guillen—Ceramics II and Art Appreciation. He had told her she was too advanced to do the regular class work, and suggested she begin work on her own project. So she spent her time in class working on a full-size bust of a woman while the other students, less serious, occupied themselves with vases and small figures. Art Appreciation was one of those courses kids take to get “an easy A,” which Mr. Guillen knew, and with regards to which he had two options: surprise them by making them memorize styles and dates, or sponsor lots of trips to museums and grade kids based on how often they showed up. He always opted for the museum trips.
One afternoon, Mr. Wilkins, who taught Music Appreciation and had the same options, expressed his disapproval at an informal meeting in the teachers’ lounge. “Your kids aren’t learning anything by going to a museum. They just want to get out of school.”
“But they’re not learning anything.”
“You think you’re getting through to your kids by making them memorize all those dates and genres? I don’t know about you, but when I was in school and had to memorize something, I forgot it as soon as the test was over.”
Mr. Owen, the head of the math department, scowled. “How many A’s did you give out last semester?”
Mr. Guillen shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“I hardly ever give out A’s. An A implies perfection, and I’ve known very few perfect kids.”
“I’ve known very few perfect teachers,” Mr. Guillen’s smile was mild, but he was a shy man, and uncomfortable under everyone’s scrutiny. “Besides, we’re not here to judge if the kids are perfect or not. We’re supposed to make learning fun. If they learn something, great. If they don’t, we either didn’t do a good job of getting them interested, or they just really don’t care. Punishing them with a bad grade isn’t the answer.”
“Do you ever fail anyone?” asked Miss Redmond, the English teacher.
“On what basis?”
“If they don’t show up, or don’t participate at all.” He shifted his position, his glance went to the clock—thank God only a few more minutes before he had a class—“I know kids are there to take a break from lessons and tests. But that’s what they do in gym, too. And in gym class you don’t pass the kids who are good and fail the ones who aren’t. If they show up, they pass. I wish art could just be pass or fail, too. I hate assigning grades to creativity.” To his relief, the bell rang. He stood, dropped his empty coffee cup in the wastebasket of the teachers’ lounge, and hurried out; knowing they were going to talk about him as soon as he was gone.
“I hate the way they treat you,” Allie said after he told her about the conversation. The Art Club officially met once a week under his supervision, but she was the only one who ever showed up with any regularity. Frequently it was just the two of them.
“I’m pretty used to it. Happened at my last school too. I tried to get them to abolish grades altogether, but the school board wouldn’t even listen. What are you making?”
“Just a head.” She rolled a ball of clay, made dents for eye sockets, and began to form the general shape of the brow, nose, and chin. “All the teachers here stink except you.”
“Nah, they’re okay.” He got himself some clay too, and within a few minutes he’d made a creature with long ears and a curly tail. With a tool, he detailed the scales and claws.
Allie stopped working on her head to watch. It was always the same scenario: he’d create some amazing , like something in a movie, he’d make it talk to her, then he’d crumple it back into a ball.
This time it had three arms and one big eye. He waved it in front of her. “Hello! Hello, Allie!”
As always, she giggled.
“Hey, Allie, can I call you Allie?”
“Hey, Allie Cat. Can I call you Allie Cat?”
“You can call me whatever you want.”
“Hey, Allie Cat, how about your art teacher, huh? Isn’t he the coolest?”
“He’s a weirdo,” Allie told the monster.
“Whadya mean weirdo? Doncha mean he’s the coolest?”
“Yeah, that’s what I mean.” Her gaze traveled from the monster to Mr. Guillen’s face. “He’s the coolest.”
He was startled by the suddenly-intimate tone of her voice, and got busy adding spikes to the monster’s back.
Allie saw she’d flustered him, and said sternly, “Don’t you dare crush that. Why don’t you glaze him and bake him?”
Mr. Guillen shrugged; kept working on the monster and didn’t meet her eyes.
“Just this once. Finish something. Glaze him. Bluish gray. With a red tongue.”
“It’s not good enough.” He held up the monster again. “Goodbye, Allie Cat! It was nice knowing you!”
“No!” She stood and grabbed his arm and tried to rescue the monster; at the same time, Mr. Guillen laughed and tried to hold it away, and all at once the monster fell on the floor and squished, and Allie was holding Mr. Guillen’s wrists, and as they wrestled a little, her breasts were just a couple of inches away from his face.
He felt weak. It would have been so easy to just bury his face into her sweater; drink in her scent… but he pulled away, pushed his seat back, and stood. Looking down at the ill-fated monster, he said, “Ha, and they say nothing exciting ever happens in the Art Club.”
Allie was shaking all over, and deep down felt a hot, urgent longing. “I should get going,” she managed to say.
“Let’s put some wet paper towels on your head,” he said. “You don’t want it to dry out.”
“No, that’s okay, I’ll make another one next week.”
“Okay. Bye, Allie.” He waited until her footfalls disappeared down the hall, then went to the sink and splashed cold water on his face.
Her friends had taken possession of the biggest table in the library, and it was covered with books. Jules hoisted her bag off her shoulder onto the floor and took a seat next to Nathaniel.
“Please tell me you’ve changed your mind,” Charles greeted her.
“About what?” asked Nathaniel.
“Charles doesn’t want me to do my final paper on Hesse. He hates Hesse,” Jules said.
“Hate Hesse,” Charles confirmed.
“Oh yeah, and like Joyce is the greatest.” Jules pulled out her notebook and grinned at Nathaniel. “I intend to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Hermann Hesse was the greatest writer of all time.”
“Please!” Charles covered his ears. “I can’t listen.”
“Put a lid on it, you two.” Dawn didn’t even bother to look up from her book.
“And you.” Charles turned to her. “How can anyone write a paper about mathematics?”
That got her attention. “Are you kidding? You guys don’t have any idea at all, do you!” She laughed and shook her head. “The field is more fascinating than ever. With more and more fun concepts… ”
“Like more than infinity and closer than touching.”
“If you’re not a moron and can stretch your mind beyond the obvious, yeah.” She went back to her book.
“Jules,” Charles said, “tell me… apart from subjecting the world to the most saccharin, idiotic prose in the whole history of literature, what did Hesse actually do?”
“Oh I think you would have liked him when he was young. He complained a lot then tried to kill himself. Your kind of guy!”
A student at the next table over, sent them a glare. Jules lowered her voice. “Nathaniel, how’s your paper coming?”
“The psychology of personality is absolutely brilliant. This is why…”
“Everyone should be required to major in psychology,” Jules, Charles, and Dawn said with him.
“Excuse me,” said a student at another nearby table, “but you could guys keep it down?”
“Sorry.” Jules lowered her voice again. “What’s so brilliant about it?”
“Just the history of it all. The different methods of and understanding and predicting peoples’ behavior. Carl Jung coined the terms introvert and extrovert to describe how people act… an introvert uses a sort of inner guide, and an extravert depends on the world around him to… ”
“Carl Jung?” Jules repeated. “He was friend with Hesse!”
“I’m not surprised. A lot of writers admired Jung.”
“Why would Jung hang out with a whiney baby like Hesse?” Charles asked.
“He was only a whiney baby when he was young,” Jules answered, still marveling at the connection. “As he got older, he found peace.”
“Wisdom,” Nathaniel nodded. “Jung, too. When he was young he was such a genius that he was arrogant and full of himself. But once he transcended his ego, he was compassionate. He wasn’t contemptuous of everyone and everything. The way we are.” Nathaniel looked at his three friends. “He didn’t need to judge people. Passing judgement on people, man, that’s bullshit.”
Jules, watching his face, realized suddenly that there had been a big change in him since the semester began. Looking back, she couldn’t think of any instances of him joining in on their criticism of specific people and society in general. Like that time Charles had pointed out a girl in the cafeteria who was wearing tons of makeup… Nathaniel said that she was just the result of 18 years of experience, about which they knew nothing. That had been his exact phrase, about which we know nothing. When he went back to his reading, she found herself admiring his strong chin, his clear skin, the soft hair on his arms. Wonder why he isn’t dating anyone?
Mandy surprised everyone with her decision to take night courses in business accounting.
“I think that’s a fabulous idea,” Mom enthused.
“Won’t that be really boring?” Allie asked.
“Yes,” said Mandy. "But my bosses are paying, and they said when I’m done I can take over all the finances of the business, and I’ll get a raise.”
“You’re so smart to be doing this,” Mom said. “In college I majored in history. Did me no good at all. I wish I had studied something sensible.”
“Of course I’m only going to do it for a little while. As soon as Tim and I get married my plan is to start having kids.”
“I’ll be an auntie!” Allie said.
Mom didn’t say anything. She couldn’t help wondering what Tim’s plan was.
For the first time in her life, Allie was dreading the end of school. How was she going to last three months without seeing Mr. Guillen? More and more often she lingered at his desk after the bell rang, and on a few occasions he’d had to write a note to Mr. Clayburn, Allie’s social studies teacher, explaining why she’d been late. She and Mr. Guillen had fun composing the notes: Allie helped clean up after an explosion in the kiln (no one was hurt) or Allie has been helping some of the other kids with their projects and didn’t have enough time to work on her own or Allie stayed after class organizing the jars of glaze. Mr. Clayburn was furious every time, even though she usually wasn’t more than ten minutes late.
When she finished her bust, Mr. Guillen suggested she enter it into the school’s art contest, and the kids selected by Mr. Guillen for the jury awarded her First Prize. Then she began working on a dinosaur; an intense creation that required her to stay after school a couple of afternoons a week, in addition to the afternoon that the Art Club met. Mr. Guillen always had something he needed to do, and so it was that they wound up sitting together in the art room until 5:00 every day.
“How come your wife doesn’t mind you staying after school every day?” Allie asked casually one afternoon. Mr. Guillen would never suspect that she’d been working up the courage to ask for two weeks.
“Oh, I’m not married.”
Her heart fluttered with relief, but she wasn’t out of the woods yet. “Surely you must have a girlfriend.” When he didn’t answer right away, she pretended to be concentrating on her dinosaur. Mr. Guillen was making a dinosaur, too, to keep hers company, but his had huge round eyes and an animated grin; the opposite of hers, which was based on pictures in the school library’s encyclopedia and 100% accurate in every detail.
“I guess so,” he said after a minute.
“You guess so?”
He shrugged. Allie thought it was a good sign—like maybe it wasn’t a serious relationship. So in the same calm voice she asked, “What’s her name?”
“What’s she like?”
“She’s about five five. Brown hair. Brown eyes… ” his voice trailed off.
“She sounds really… exotic,” Allie joked.
Ashamed, he made himself laugh. “Average build,” he added, and felt so mean; but joking with Allie was so exhilarating. Doing anything with her was. He especially loved the way she laughed—she had two laughs, actually: one was a girlish giggle, and the other was a throw her head back one. Anytime he said something that elicited that reaction, he felt younger and happier than he’d felt in years. “She’s a nice girl,” he amended in a weak attempt to be loyal.
“What does she do?”
He sighed. “She’s a… secretary.”
Allie instinctively knew how to play the game women are masters at—cutting down the competition in a way that sounds generous and gracious. “Well the world needs secretaries, for sure. All that administrative stuff no one else wants to do.” Then, “I guess I just pictured you with someone more… artistic.”
She focused her crystal blue eyes on him, making him so uncomfortable that when he reached for some more clay he knocked over a cup of water, and when he grabbed some paper towels to clean up the spill he arm bumped into his dinosaur, and it fell flat on its face.
“Ow, that hurt, Allie!” he made it say, picking it up and showing her that one side was smashed flat.
“Oh you poor thing!”
Mr. Guillen gently took her dinosaur and made it say to his, “Hey, does your face hurt? It’s killing me!”
He made his dinosaur say, “Hey, Allie Cat, did you know that joke has been around since the Jurassic period?” and she laughed some more.
He set about trying to repair the damage, and she went back to work on her dinosaur, comparing its jawline to the picture. “So,” she said after a couple of minutes, “you don’t sound too excited about Sandy.”
“Uh, well… we’ve been together a long time. I guess the excitement has kind of… faded.”
“Oh.” She decided to add more clay to the jaw to make it more robust. “Do you still love her?”
He was startled. “Uh… I mean… I haven’t really thought about… ” He had no idea what to say. He and Sandy exchanged “I loved you”s every single morning, but did either of them actually mean it? Or feel it?
She added clay to her dinosaur’s brow. “That seems sort of sad.”
When he didn’t answer, she pushed forward. “Maybe it’s time to find someone new.” She looked over and saw that his hands were shaking. I went too far. “I’m not sure what color to make him. I guess like grayish bluish. But that seems so cliché.”
Mr. Guillen tried to focus. “What?”
“Grayish bluish, maybe some green… like in the picture.” She pointed at it.
He looked at her clay streaked fingers; the delicate pink nail polish (Sandy never painted her nails) and felt hot all over, like he was standing in the kiln. “Um, right, I think we have something like that.” He stood so suddenly that his chair tipped over. When he tried to right it, the leg hooked on one of the legs of Allie’s chair and he couldn’t get it free. She stood too, and they separated the chairs. Then he hurried over to the closet.
In the dim, damp privacy, surrounded by unfired pots and boxes of clay and jars of glaze, he tried to get his head together. What the hell was he doing, what the hell was he doing, what the hell was he doing? “Grayish bluish greenish,” he muttered. He found a color that would work, and brought it to her.
She opened the lid and looked inside. “Perfect,” she declared. “I knew I could count on you, Mr. Guillen.”
He looked so awkward that she felt sorry for him. “What color are you making yours?”
“A blue dinosaur?”
“With a red bowtie.”
She stopped working in order to watch his nimble, skillful fingers form a neat little bow around his dinosaur’s neck. With a tool he drew circles on the bow, which he told her would be yellow polka dots.
Allie looked at her sternly-accurate dinosaur. “I wonder if they could be friends, or if mine would think yours was weird.”
“Mine will be afraid of yours.”
“Mine would never hurt yours!” For a moment she considered softening the expression; maybe make the eyes bigger and more expressive. But right away decided not to.
“Maybe,” he said, at last meeting her eyes, “maybe once they get to know each other they’ll really like each other. Even though they’re… really different.”
Her turn to be uncomfortable. Then her gaze traveled above his head to the clock on the wall. “Oh no, I have to get going!”
“Oh. Wow, I didn’t realize it was after five.”
Neither moved. Both were thinking Just a few more weeks before summer vacation.
She got up and went to the sink to wet some paper towels. He put the jar of glaze aside for when she was ready; it was an unpopular color and this was the only jar he had. They met in the closet. He cleared off a spot on a shelf for her, too high up for her.
“Let me,” he said.
When he turned back to face her, she was standing closer than he expected, and her chin grazed his chest. “Oops, hi,” he said.
“Hi,” she said.
An eternity passed. She was so close, so dizzyingly close… he coughed to clear his throat. “Hey, um, so if you want, I could drive you home.”