• robinstratton23

35. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Feb 17


MOM WOKE AN HOUR before the sun came up and listened to the birds as they began their day. It wasn’t supposed to rain, but you couldn’t always count on the weathermen to be accurate. As soon as it started to get light, she slipped out of bed, went to the window, and anxiously scanned the sky. Looked clear. She pulled on a robe, and walked around the house for a few minutes, luxuriating in its familiarity: the kitchen counters sparkled because Lisbeth was such a neat freak, but apparently Jules had been up later, because near the sink was an empty diet Dr. Pepper can. The old sofa in the living room; they’d had it for as long as she could remember. And Dad’s recliner, near the fireplace. Funny how every time a man visited—Tim or Simon or Kevin—that’s where they sat. On her knickknack shelf sat a glass-blown ship from a trip to Florida years ago, a Royal Doulton toby mug of Neptune, a framed photograph of all four girls the day baby Allie had come home from the hospital. So many memories! Then her mind turned to the future, and she wondered if one day Mandy would prowl the house on the day of her daughter’s wedding.


“Morning, Mom,” Mandy’s voice startled her.


“Honey.” Mom pulled her into a hug, then released her and studied her face. “Did you sleep at all?”


Mandy did a combination head shake, nod, and shrug. “Not really.”


“I guess most brides don’t sleep much the night before.”


“Did you?”


“Like a log,” Mom admitted. “I was so calm.” She laughed. “It used to drive your dad crazy, how nothing bothered me. He said it was unnatural.”


“Unnatural?”


“I think he meant it as a compliment. Well…I don’t know, maybe not.”


“No, no, I’m sure he did.”


It felt awkward to them both, recalling the day which had, all these years later, turned out to be kind of a lie. With a sudden sigh, Mom pulled Mandy tight, and held back tears. She’d had no hesitation about her wedding; no doubts about the man she was marrying, or even for a moment thought the marriage would end. Of course, she had to get married, anyway, before anyone realized she was pregnant. Her tummy was still flat, but she was throwing up every morning. “Just nerves, Mother.” Funny thing—her mother had been just about the same age as she was now. Long gone, and her father too; cancer, both.


“You okay, Mom? It must feel weird.”


“It does. Want something to eat?”


“I’ll wait for the others to get up. But I’d love coffee.”


For half an hour they discussed last-minute details; specifically, that Dad was flying in and would be spending a few days in town. Mom hadn’t yet told the girls that Dad had recently moved in with someone named Fran. It was devastating that he wasn’t just seeing someone but was serious. So unfair—he was the one who broke five hearts, and then he got to find happiness with someone new. “I never meant to hurt you,” he scattered over their most recent conversation four times. As if not meaning to hurt her allowed him this stroke of good fortune. How she wished she could have said, I’m seeing someone, too. She almost did, she almost told the flat-out lie. What she said was, “Please don’t bring her to the wedding,” and he said “No, no, of course not.” That he had known not to was a tiny bit gratifying; but still, he would be like a stranger to her, this man with whom she’d shared a bed, a home, countless meals, and four children. Was Fran younger? Pretty? Glamorous, or one of those women who looked adorable without makeup? Was she athletic, or…


“Morning,” Lisbeth joined them in the kitchen and gave Mandy a hug. “You must be so excited!”


“I am.”


Allie came in too. “The weather is perfect. Are you nervous?”


“Yes.”


“I wonder if Tim is nervous.”


“I’m sure he is.”


Jules, appearing in the doorway, said, “Probably driving Simon crazy.” In a decent impersonation of him she said, “You have the ring? You’re sure you have the ring? Lemme see it? Okay, okay good, you have it. Okay, good. Wait. Can I see it again?”


They all laughed, Mom most of all. What a relief, to have Jules back home, away from that kid at school who broke her heart. And with her being Maid of Honor and Simon being Best Man, it was going to be a fun day with no pressure. If only she and Simon…Mom sighed. If that was going to happen, it would have by now.


Her eyes toured the other faces: Mandy’s was radiant, of course. Allie was trying to convince Jules to have coffee: “Just try it! Writers are supposed to experience everything!” But Lisbeth looked sad. Mom was surprised at how empty the house felt without Kevin’s big personality; his easy grin, the way he helped Lisbeth grow out of her shyness. “What should we have for breakfast?” she asked. “Mandy, can you eat?”


“I can,” Jules said.


“My stomach feels a little icky with just coffee,” Mandy said. “So yeah, maybe some toast.”


“I can make pancakes if you want.”


“I’d love pancakes,” Jules said. “Pancakes and diet Dr. Pepper will be a great way to start the day.”


There was a moment of silence, and then Allie said what was on all their minds: “Our last breakfast together.”


No one had a pep talk; no one could truthfully say, “Don’t be silly, we’ll do this again,” because tomorrow morning Mandy would be eating breakfast with Tim in the honeymoon suite of a hotel in Florida.


“So weird,” Jules said. Then added, “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean…”


“It’s okay,” Mandy said. “This is weird.”


Mom said, “A mother with daughters spends years getting ready for this day, but when it comes…wow, it makes you realize how fast time goes by. And one by one, you’ll all go through this.”


“I might not,” said Jules.


“Will you be okay sitting with Dad?” Mandy asked. “You might have to dance with him.”


“I’ll be okay.” Mom didn’t tell them she was looking forward to seeing him, even though she knew it would hurt. He would always have a hold on her.


“The girls are just…I can’t even think of a word to describe how beautiful they are,” Dad whispered to Mom.


“Jules griped about having to wear a gown, have her hair done, and let Mandy put makeup on her, but once she saw how great she looked, she stopped complaining.”


“You look really hot, too, you know,” he said.


“Me?”


“You look exactly the way you did the day we got married.”


Mom was delighted. She had slimmed down from doing aerobics with Mandy’s Jane Fonda tapes. His unabashed admiration thrilled her.


“I have to go walk a girl down an aisle,” he said. “Save me a seat in the front row?”


“Okay.” Her knees were weak as she sat. Funny how her daughters could tell her all day long that she was pretty, but the minute a man said it, it brought such a glow.


Lisbeth walked down the aisle first then Allie; moving slowly and awkwardly to the organ music’s rhythm. When Jules, who’d been chosen to be Maid of Honor, and who’d been instructed to walk regally (something Mandy read in a wedding planning book) made her way toward the altar, she kept a smile on her face even though she thought how silly it was. I will never have this kind of wedding! There were Oohs and Ahhs at the sight of the bridesmaids, but when Mandy appeared, flashbulbs started going off. Dad looked solemn but proud as he escorted her to the altar, lifted her veil, and kissed her. By the time he sat next to Mom, tears were pouring down his face. “Our little girl!”


Mom, crying too, handed him a couple of tissues. Then they turned their attention to the front.


Father Gabriel presided over the ceremony. Simon stepped forward with the ring when commanded, and vows were earnestly recited. There was the happy pronouncement, the first kiss as husband and wife, and the applause of the audience.


Jules, watching Mandy and Tim walk back up the aisle, looked over at Simon, who gave her the thumbs up. One by one, the bridesmaids and ushers followed the new Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins out the door to the receiving line outside.


Lisbeth felt a strange chill run through her, and for some reason, turned and looked over at the parking lot. And there was Kevin. She let out a gasp loud enough for Jules and Allie to hear, and they followed her gaze.


“Kevin,” Lisbeth murmured. The photographer called for all the bridesmaids to come together for one more picture, but she started to walk, then run, and she didn’t stop until she was in his arms.


“Lissie, Lissie,” he said, “please forgive me! If you take me back, I will never ever lie to you ever again. I will love you for the rest of your life, I promise. I promise.”


“Of course I’ll take you back! I missed you so much! I couldn’t stand being apart from you!” They kissed and clung to each other, both trembling with emotion: relief, joy, and the feeling that nothing would ever separate them again.


“Bizarre,” Jules said, turning to Simon. “How’d Kevin knew the wedding was today?”


“Um…I might have mentioned it.”


At the reception, Dad danced with Mandy, and then reluctantly handed her over to Tim. Returning to the head table, he held out his hand, and Mom rose and accompanied him to back to the dance floor. He said, “I remember the day you had her like it was yesterday.”


“I woke up and saw you standing there holding her.”


“I said ‘This is Mandy,’ and you said, ‘Don’t let them take her, don’t let them change their minds!’


They laughed together; had repeated this story so many times over the years that they didn’t mind having no audience for it right now.


He held her a little closer. “Remember at our wedding, how we danced to ‘Harbor Lights’ by The Platters?”


“That was our song.”


“It’s still our song. It’ll always be our song. Some things will always be ‘ours.’ Do you know what I mean?”


“I do.”


“I never really explained why…”


“Let’s not talk about it here,” she said.


“I have a room upstairs.”


She shook her head. At the same time, she allowed him to lead her off the dance floor. Without speaking, they hurried down the hall to the elevators, and waited for the doors to open. Stepping inside, they turned and saw their reflection in the glass doors as they closed.

Slipping his hand around her waist, Dad said, “We always were the best-looking couple.” He kissed her neck. “Because of you.”


“Oh come on. You were always the handsomest man in the room. Still are.” Her heart was thudding. What’s this about? How much has he had to drink? She watched him nuzzle her for another moment, and then there was a ding! and the elevator doors opened.


“This way,” Dad said, heading down the hall. He pulled out his room key and unlocked the door. They walked in, and the door closed behind them.


“Fancy place. I have a little refrigerator and it’s got wine and stuff in it. Not like that room we stayed in on the Cape the first night after we got married. Remember how bad it was?”


“That big fly we couldn’t catch, and the people upstairs who argued all night.”


“One of the best nights of my life.” He sat on the bed; held out his hand, and she took it and sat next to him.


“Mine too,” she said.


When he leaned forward and kissed her, she let him. It was wrong, it was completely wrong. But she wouldn’t have stopped him for a million dollars. They embraced hungrily, their hands stroking the familiar lines of each other’s body, then they pulled off their clothes and got under the sheets.


After they’d made love and flopped back, breathing hard, Mom felt a pang of guilt…not about his girlfriend, but about not feeling guilty. Fran would never know, so she would never be hurt. Dad would go back to her as if nothing had happened; probably he would tell her how much he missed her, and he would talk about his daughters. Maybe he would give her flowers and tell her how pretty she was. And Mom would go back to her life knowing that she owned a piece of him, and always would. She felt a sense of triumph, and she felt herself able to let go of him, really let go. And she felt happier than she had in a long, long time.


Mandy was surprised to look over and see Lisbeth dancing with Kevin. “What in the world…?”


“Simon and I decided enough was enough,” Tim said.


“You decided that enough was enough?”


“Yeah.”


“You invited my sister’s ex to my wedding?”


Our wedding.”


“But…” then she smiled. “Sorry. Our wedding.”


Allie, doing the Electric Slide with Simon, was thinking about her conversation with Mr. Guillen on the last day of school. He asked if she was going anywhere on vacation and she said no, and she asked if he was, and he said no. He seemed like he wanted to say something more, but then he just said, “Have a great summer, Allie Cat.” What she wanted to say was I miss you already! but what she said was, “You too, Mr. Guillen.


“Come on!” Simon called suddenly, his voice carrying across the room.


Grandfather nodded mildly, pretending not to understand his grandson’s urgent wave. But Simon wasn’t going to let him off the hook. He went over, took him by the arm. “Come on and dance with Allie and I.”


“Allie and me,” Grandfather corrected, rising reluctantly. “I can’t dance to this.” As if the DJ heard him, the music changed abruptly to the ultimate slow song, “Colour My World” by Chicago.


“Hey, how about that?” With a grin, Simon escorted him to the dance floor.


Grandfather held out his hand to Allie. “May I have the honor?” She giggled shyly, stepped into his arms, and they glided off.


Simon watched them, and then turned, his eyes scanning the room. Jules, near the door in back, knew he was looking for her. All day long Mandy’s happiness had triggered painful memories of Michael, of how things had been when they were so in love. Well…she’d been in love. Michael, not so much. She sighed; still hurt.


Just then Simon’s gaze found her, and for a moment they stood looking at each other across the room. She thought about how much they’d grown up since they’d met, how much they’d changed. How everything had changed…Mandy all married and moving out, Lissie in a rock band with a boyfriend, and little Allie in high school, for crying out loud…and that made her sad. Then thinking about how she was capable of being sad in the midst of so much joy made her even more sad. And lonely, god, so lonely. What’s wrong with me?


But then Simon broke into a smile and hurried toward her. She felt herself smile back. He would laugh as he held out his hand and asked her to dance. And she would say yes.

THE END

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