35. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Mar 10, 2020
Mandy 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 turned and smiled at Jules, who was still asleep. This is the last time I’ll wake up in this room, she thought. This is my last morning as Mandy April.
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 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 fire place. Funny how every time a man visited—Tim or Simon or Kevin—that’s where they sat. On Mom’s knick knack 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 she would have a daughter who would prowl the house on the day of her wedding.
“Did you sleep at all?” Mom’s voice startled her.
Mandy did a combination head shake, nod, and shrug.
“I guess most brides don’t sleep much the night before.”
“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.”
“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, still flat, but she was throwing up every morning… “Just nerves, Mother,” she’d said. Funny thing−her mother was just about the same age as she was now. But long gone, and her father too. Cancer, both.
Mandy initiated the release, studied Mom’s face. “You okay? It must feel weird.”
"Want something to eat?”
“I’ll wait for the others to get up. But I’d love coffee.”
For about half an hour they discussed last-minute details; specifically, that Dad was flying in and would be spending a few days in town. Mom didn’t know if the girls knew that Dad had recently moved in with someone named Fran. She’d been devastated. That he wasn’t just seeing someone—he was serious. It felt 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 the conversation four times after he told her. 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. Instead, she said “Please don’t bring her to the wedding,” and he said “No, no, of course not.” That he had known not to gratified her a tiny bit; 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!”
Allie came in too. “The weather is perfect. Are you nervous?”
“I wonder if Tim is nervous.”
“I’m sure he is,” Mandy smiled, and 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.”
While they laughed, she went to the refrigerator for a diet Dr. Pepper. With Simon being Best Man and her being Maid of Honor, it was almost as if they were dates. As much as she still hurt from the whole Michael thing, she knew this was going to be a fun day, with no pressure.
Sitting at the table, her eyes toured the happy faces, then rested for a moment on Lisbeth. She looked… sad. Sometimes Jules forgot that she and Kevin weren’t together anymore—they’d been such a perfect couple. “He’s so different these days,” Simon told her a couple of days ago. “Hasn’t gone out with anyone in a month. Spends all his time practicing. Keeps saying he wants back in the band.” Jules hadn’t replied, but she’d heard Lisbeth say many times that Chicken Slax really needed a drummer now that they were playing so many jazz gigs. “I can do the beat and fake a brush on a hi-hat on my keyboard, but it’s not like a real jazz combo.”
“Should I make breakfast or are you too excited to eat?” Mom asked.
“I can eat,” 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 tiny 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 some 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.” You’ll all move out and I’ll be alone. “It makes me feel like I need to get my life back on track. Stop missing Dad. Stop feeling sorry for myself.” She covered her mouth. “What a terrible thing to say on what should be the happiest day of your life!”
“No, it’s fine. Will you be okay sitting with him? You might have to dance with him.”
Mom nodded. “I’ll be okay.” She 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.
Allie had zoned out, 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’d let out a deep sigh, and seemed like he wanted to say something. But then he just said, “Well, have a great summer, Allie Cat. I’m looking forward to seeing you in the fall.” What she wanted to say was I miss you already! but what she wound up saying was, “Me too, Mr. Guillen.”
“The girls are just… I can’t even think of a word to describe how beautiful they are,” Dad whispered.
Mom nodded. “Jules griped about having to wear a gown, have her hair done, and let Mandy put makeup on her, but once she saw how amazing she looked, she stopped complaining.”
“You look really hot, too, you know,” he said.
“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?”
She nodded. 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.
The bridesmaids and ushers entered, moving slowly and awkwardly to the organ music’s rhythm. There were Oohs and Ahhs at the sight of them, 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, and 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 recited earnestly. Then 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, blew out a sigh and 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, holding her tight. “Please forgive me! If you take me back, I will never ever lie to you ever again. I’ll never ever give you any reason to doubt me. I promise. I promise.”
“Of course I’ll take you back! I missed you so much! I couldn’t stand being apart from you!”
Their kiss was long and urgent; and the embrace that followed felt like it lasted forever.
“Son of a bitch,” Jules said, turning to Simon. “Wonder how Kevin knew the wedding was today?”
He shrugged. “I might have mentioned it.”
Allie hugged him. “I’m so glad you told him! I’m so glad they’re back together.”
Jules was glad too, but pretended to be exasperated, and shoved him. “You are incorrigible,” she said.
“If ‘incorrigible’ means someone whose band needs a drummer, then yeah, I am.”
At the reception, Dad danced with Mandy, and cried practically the whole time. Then he danced with Mom, held her close, and said, “I remember the day you had her like it was yesterday.”
“Me too. Well, I don’t remember giving birth, because I was sedated, but I remember waking and seeing you holding her. I remember thinking Oh I hope that one is ours!”
“You didn’t just think it, you said it.”
“Yeah. You were so funny. I said This is Mandy, and you said Don’t let them take her, don’t let them change their minds!”
Of course Mom had heard this story many times, but not for years, and to hear him reminisce so fondly brought an ache that made breathing difficult. As if he could read her mind, he tightened his grip around her waist, and with his lips very close to her ear, said, “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?”
She didn’t, exactly, but he looked so intense…. How much wine has he had? so she nodded.
“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.
Taking her hand, 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.” Mom’s heart was thudding. What’s this about? Did he break up with Fran? She watched him nuzzle her for another moment, and then there was a ding! and the elevator doors opened.
“This way,” Dad said, leading her 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.”
“And yet… 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, hadn’t she just that morning announced that she wasn’t going to miss him anymore? But she wouldn’t have stopped him for a million dollars. They kissed hungrily, their hands stroking the familiar lines of each other’s body, then they pulled off their clothes off 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 years.
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?”
“You invited my sister’s ex to my wedding?”
“But…” then she smiled. “Sorry. Our wedding.”
Allie, doing the Electric Slide with Simon, was laughing, sweating a bit, and kept pushing her hair away from her eyes. Funny to think how she’d been so neurotic about her bun−the way she’d dampened and curled the tendrils just right with bobby pins that she hadn’t removed until they’d all climbed into the limo and headed for the church, and now she was having so much fun that she didn’t care how she looked.
“Come on!” Simon called suddenly, his voice carrying across the room.
Grandfather waved 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, nursing a weak screwdriver with extra ice, 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 back with Kevin (and sure to marry him), and little Allie in high school, for crying out loud… 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 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.