• robinstratton23

34. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Feb 16


“WHO WAS THAT?” Lisbeth asked as Allie came into the living room.


“Who?”


“Allie!”


“It was…one of my teachers. He gave me a ride home because I worked late.” Allie put her purse on the chair, then realized she’d left her books in the art room.


“Which teacher?”


“My art teacher.”


“Mr. Guillen?”


“I worked late,” Allie said again. “I didn’t realize what time it was. I missed the bus.”


The whole situation was suddenly clear to Lisbeth: Allie’s daily impatience to get to school, all the times she seemed so spaced out when Lisbeth was trying to talk to her, and the fact that the other day she said weekends were boring. “Allie…this doesn’t seem like a good idea to me.”


“What doesn’t?”


“Accepting a ride home from a teacher.”


“It was just this one time. I’m sure it won’t happen again.”


“Allie.”


“Okay, okay. I like him.” She sat on the sofa next to Lisbeth. “He’s so perfect. He’s everything I’ve always wanted in a man. He’s an artist, he’s sensitive, he’s cute.”


Lisbeth had never been tasked with being stern in her whole life, especially not with her beautiful, confident sister, but she felt it was her duty. “I understand that. But he’s your teacher! And he’s like, thirty years old! He’s twice your age!”


“Wow.” Allie shook her head. “I can’t believe you’re saying this to me. When you started going out with Kevin, we all thought it was a bad idea, because he was so much more experienced than you. But I never told you to stop seeing him. I would never tell you to stop seeing someone.”


“Kevin wasn’t my teacher,” Lisbeth replied. “Mr. Guillen could get in trouble. He could get fired. You don’t want that to happen, do you?”


“No. But…” Allie sat back and pouted. “I thought you’d be happy for me. After what I went through with Zeke.”


“I will be happy for you. When you find someone who’s…”


“Who’s what?”


“Who’s not your teacher.”


Allie stood. She wanted to be mad, but she realized she was suddenly in a precarious position. “Okay, no more rides home from Mr. Guillen, and I’ll play it cool. Hey, don’t tell Mom or Jules, okay?”

Lisbeth sighed uneasily. “Tell Mom or Jules what,” she said.


Jules was headed back to her dorm room one warm afternoon when she heard someone call her name. Turning, she saw Nathaniel hurrying to catch up.


““I thought you were going to meet us last night to study,” he greeted, falling into step with her.


“Oh, uh…” she flushed. “Sorry.”


He laughed. “And how is the boyfriend?”


“He’s okay.”


Without needing to consult one another, they walked past the dorms headed toward the reservoir near the campus. It was a great place to be alone, and Jules loved the roar of the waterfall.


“So, what’s the deal with you two?” Nathaniel asked. “Is this thing serious? I can never tell.”

“No. Not for him, I mean.” Hating the self-pity in her voice, she said, “What about you? How come you’re not going out with anyone?”


“Gun shy. Dated a girl all through high school, and after four years she dumped me.”


“How come?”


“Who knows. Looking back, I’m glad she did. She wasn’t very nice. She was the smartest girl in school, and I liked that. I figured we’d be one of those couples who always had intense discussions and wouldn’t own a TV set and wouldn’t know what was going on in the world.”


“How did I not know this tragic tale?” Jules asked. “Seriously, how have we never talked about this?”


“Too busy talking about Hesse and Nietzsche, I guess.”


“So you haven’t dated anyone since then?”


“No. Spent the past two years looking for someone smart like her…but I finally realized I don’t want that. She was smart, but she was mean.”


“Like us,” Jules said. “We’re smart but mean.”


“Charles is smart but mean. You’re not. You’re nice. You’re sweet.”


“Really?” Jules thought about all the vocabulary wars…the obscure, intellectual facts they memorized, then casually swapped like recipes, the constant need to be the most brilliant, their game of making fun of anyone who wasn’t a genius like them, the way she treated PJ and her friends. “I don’t know.”


“I do. I know. You’re sweet.”


“Well…thanks. You’re sweet too. Now, I mean…since you took that personality course. It’s changed you.”


“It made me realize that I needed to put other people down in order to make myself feel better, especially after being dumped by someone I thought was…”


“Smart.”


“Yeah. So I’m trying to not need that anymore.”


Jules wondered if Michael was insecure and that was why he…well, he didn’t put her down, exactly…but he made her feel so bad about herself. Two evenings ago, she’d stood in this same spot with him and had the following conversation: “Almost summer.” “Yeah.” “You have plans?” “Yeah.” She didn’t ask what his plans were because she already knew—to not call her…not think of her, not miss her.


“Jules, you okay?”


“What? Yeah.” She checked her watch and determined she’d have just enough time to take a shower before Michael came over. “Let’s go back.”


“Okay.”


They turned and walked in silence for a few minutes, headed for the dorms. It wasn’t until they were inside that Nathaniel said, “He doesn’t make you happy.”


“No.” She hoped he wouldn’t offer any words of self-help empowerment; ugh, those clichés about putting yourself first, doing what’s right for you, you are all you need. Not that she thought they were stupid; but people just tossed them off as if all emotions make sense. As if shutting off feelings was the easiest thing in the world. “It’s okay.”


“You want to talk about Hesse? I’ll listen.”


“No, thanks. I’m really okay…” From all the way up the hall she could see the note on her door. “Shit.” Annoyed and disappointed, she snatched it off and read it.


“Looks like a bummer,” Nathaniel said, watching her face.


She handed it to him, and he read out loud, “Jules, can’t come by tonight, will explain tomorrow.”


Unlocking her door, she went inside. “I hate when he does this.”


Nathaniel followed her in, and when she sat dejectedly on the bed, he sat next to her. “You allow it.”


“I know. It’s like he’s got some kind of, like he put a spell on me. I can’t figure it out.”


“I think we want what we can’t have. Maybe if he was all over you, you wouldn’t be interested.”


“I guess we’ll never know.” She slumped against him. “I just feel like such an idiot.”


“I know.” He took her hand and stoked her palm. “I never noticed your fingers,” he murmured. “They’re so delicate and feminine.”


Jules looked at her familiar, sturdy, useful hands. To the best of her knowledge, she never been called “feminine” before, and yet all of a sudden that was exactly how she felt. Gloriously soft and silky and girlish. Their faces were close. With hearts slamming against rib cages, they kissed—gently at first, then with urgent desire. They lay back on her bed. His hand crept up her t-shirt and caressed her tummy, then inched its way up toward her breasts. She arched her back and moaned. Then she reached down and tugged at the belt of his jeans. With an eager groan, he yanked off shoes, socks, shirts, jeans and underwear, and so did she, then they slipped into her sheets. His lips were on her nipples and as her body rose to meet his, her last lucid thought was, What the hell am I doing?


Afterwards, as they lay in each other’s arms, she played with the hair on his chest. The sex, she had to admit, had been way, way better than with Michael. My first orgasm! she thought, relieved.


“I didn’t plan on this happening,” he said. “I mean, I never…I never thought about you this way.”


“I know, I never thought about you this way either.” She shut her eyes, and instead of lying in wide-awake anxiety, she dozed.


A frantic pounding woke her. For a moment she thought she was in bed with Michael and someone was at the door. Then she heard Michael’s voice, and remembered that it was Nathaniel who was beside her. She lay perfectly still, had no idea what to do. Michael pounded again, and she heard him say, “Jules! Jules!”


“Better talk to him,” Nathaniel whispered.


She got up, pulled on a nightshirt, and opened the door a couple of inches. Her heart ached at the sight of him; his dark disheveled hair, his deep intense eyes.


He tried to come in, but she held the door. “Jules, don’t be mad. I had to go to the hospital. My mom called—my dad had a heart attack last night!”


She felt sick. “Oh no! How is he?”


“They don’t know. They said it was bad. He’s still unconscious.” Michael stood there, twisting his hands, in a daze, as if he didn’t realize he and Jules were on opposite sides of the door. “It was so scary, Jules! We were in this waiting room for hours. When we finally saw him, he was all hooked up to these tubes. We didn’t know if he was going to make it, so we were all telling him we loved him…and I realized it was the first time I ever told him that! I work with him every single summer, and I don’t think I ever told him I loved him!” Tears streaming down his face, he pressed against the door. “Jules, let me in, please…”


“Um, I’m not really awake, let me um, get dressed…”


But he pushed his way in and walked into her arms, burying his face in her neck. “The doctor said he might not…” his voice trailed off at the sight of Nathaniel in her bed. Releasing her and stepping back, he stared; puzzled and then hurt.


“Michael, I got your note and I…I didn’t know about your dad…”

He backed out and she heard him run down the hall. Feeling horrible, she shut the door, then she turned back to Nathaniel. “I can’t believe I did that to him! He was hurt and he needed me, and I was…for once in his life he needed me, and I was with someone else!”


“But you didn’t know…”


“It’s no excuse! I shouldn’t have…we shouldn’t have…why did we? We’re just friends!”


“It just happened,” Nathaniel muttered. He got out of bed and dressed quickly.


“I’m sorry,” Jules said. “It’s not your fault, I didn’t mean to sound like I was mad at you.”


“Who are you mad at?”


“Me. I’m mad that I would do that to him. He was scared and he came here to see me…” She stopped to think about how that sounded. “I hope you don’t think I slept with you to get back at him. To hurt him the way he keeps hurting me.”


“Did you? Be honest.”


“I don’t know. I really wanted you. I didn’t fake it or anything.”


He took her hand. “I know.”


“But now I have to figure out…what to do.”


“What to do?”


“Do I go there and apologize? He’s not going to forgive me.”


Nathaniel patted her knee and stood. “I don’t think you should apologize. I think you should tell him how you feel.”


Michael didn’t come to the door when she knocked, just said “Go away.”


“Let me in. I want to talk.”


“No.”


“Then I’m going to stand out here and talk, and the rest of the dorm will know what happened.”


She heard the creak of his bed and the sound of the door being unlocked, and waited for him to open it, but then she heard him flop down on his bed. Shaking her head, she let herself in.

The shades were down and the room was dark. When she flipped the switch, he squinted in the light and covered his eyes. Like a child. She leaned over, moved his feet, and sat on the bed. “I felt really bad about what happened,” she started, “but on my way over here I realized I didn’t do anything wrong. You and I never had any kind of commitment to each other. For all I know, on those nights when you canceled, you could have been with someone else.”


“You know I wasn’t.”


“Actually, I don’t. If we’d had any kind of what I consider a relationship, Michael, I never would have slept with Nathaniel. But you’ve never seemed to care much about what I do.”


“Yeah, I’m such a horrible person. I had this coming to me, right?”


“You never once said I love you. I don’t want you to sleep with anyone else.


“Oh yeah? Well you never said any of that shit to me, either.”


“The difference is, I would have.”


He was still covering his eyes. If she hadn’t been so mad, she would have been amused at his theatrics. “Think about what it’s been like for me. Always playing by your rules. Only seeing you if you felt like it. Only doing what you wanted to do.”


Finally, he lowered his hand and glared at her. “Okay, fine, this is my fault.”


“Well…I wouldn’t have put it that way, exactly, but…I guess you could say yeah, it was your fault.”


Now he sat up. “Don’t tell me I never showed you how much I cared about you. You know damn well I did. I just don’t express myself as easily as you do, and sorry if that hurts your precious little feelings.”


“Wow. You didn’t learn anything last night, did you.”


“What?”


“You never let your father know how much you loved him, and you’re afraid he might die without you being able to say it. Well I’m giving you the chance right now to tell me.”


He let out a snort. “If you think I’m going to tell you I love you after what happened, you’re out of your fucking mind, Jules.”


“What about before what happened? Did you?”


“You knew what I was like when we met. You knew I wasn’t one of those Oooh, I love you so much kind of guys.”


He still couldn’t say it. So the answer must be No. It must have been No all along. She stood. “Then you have no right to be mad at me.” She was cool as she let herself out, pausing to say, “I hope your dad gets better,” and shutting the door behind her. But then she ran back to her room, threw herself on her bed, and sobbed.


That evening at dinner Nathaniel asked discreetly if she was okay and she said she was. It was the last time the four of them would be together until next semester, and conversation was oddly sentimental. Watching Charles and Dawn go halfsies on a piece of cake, Jules knew their love affair, as weird as it was, would continue—flourish, even—over the summer, with dinner dates, movies, or just watching videos rented from Blockbuster. At the door of the cafeteria, they prepared to disperse: hugged each other goodbye and promised to keep in touch. Dawn and Charles headed to his dorm, and Jules said, “See you later,” to Nathaniel in a brisk voice that discouraged further conversation.


“Okay, see you later,” he said.


“I might have done a bad thing,” Simon confessed after they’d loaded her stuff into his van and were a few minutes into the drive.


“Oh?”


“Well, you know, I still hang out with Kevin sometimes…”


“Yeah?”


“He asked about Lissie. So I told him about Preston. That they broke up. He was really upset, he kept asking if she was okay. I mean, it seemed like he was really really concerned about her. Like he still really loves her.”


“I’m sure he still loves her,” Jules said. “And I don’t think she ever stopped loving him.”


“So…should we?”


“Should we what?”


“Try to get them back together?”


“No,” Jules said. “All men, except you, suck. I don’t want to see her hurt again.”

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