4. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Jules could tell something was bothering Lisbeth. She’d come in while Jules was sitting at the table doing homework, greeted her quietly, then disappeared into her room. Jules got up and followed her.
“What’s the matter?”
Lisbeth sank onto the bed. “I have to do an oral report for English.”
“Oh.” Jules sat next to her. “Can’t you do a written report instead?”
“Are you sure? Did you ask?”
“Of course I asked. Miss Brewer said it’s time I do one. She said it’s not fair to the rest of the kids that I’ve been allowed to do the written ones while they have to do the oral ones.” She lowered her head. “I get sick just thinking about it…talking in front of everyone. I can’t do it, Jules. I just can’t. I told her I can’t.”
“What did she say?”
“She said Oh Lisbeth, come on. But she doesn’t know! She doesn’t know how I get!”
Jules put her arm around Lisbeth, and for the millionth time, wondered where her sister’s anxiety came from. “Maybe it won’t be so bad.”
“It will be! It will be!”
Lisbeth pulled away. “Don’t say I’ll do it and realize it’s no big deal!”
“You think I like being this way?”
“You think I do this to get attention?”
“I never said…”
“Miss Brewer says I do it because I want people to feel sorry for me.”
“She said that?”
“I wish I wasn’t like this, Jules. I’ve gone over it and over it in my mind, trying to figure out why I’m like this. I mean, none of you guys are. Mom isn’t, Dad isn’t. Just me. I can’t help it.”
“Maybe Mom can talk to her.”
“No. Miss Brewster said I have to do it. She said it will count as a test, and if I don’t do it, I’ll get a failing grade.”
“That’s not fair,” Jules said, and now she was mad. “She should know you don’t do this to get out of doing work. You just hate public speaking.”
“But why, Jules? Why am I like this?”
“Because you’re perfect in every other way.”
“Anyway, I’ll help you. English is my best subject.” As soon as she does it once, she’ll see how easy it is, Jules thought. Her own oral report grades always read like the back of a vitamin bottle: Content—100%; Presentation—100%; Knowledge of Topic—100%. “Tell me what it’s supposed to be about, and let’s get to work on it right away.”
“No. I’m not going to do it. I can’t.”
“Not doing what?” Allie asked, coming into the room and putting her purse on the bed.
“Lisbeth has to do an oral report.”
“Oh. That stinks.”
“I’m going to help her write it.”
“I’ll help you choose an outfit.” Allie opened the closet. “Your cutest sweater is this pink one, and with black jeans…”
“I said I’m not doing it.”
Jules and Allie stared at her. “But you’ll get a failing grade,” Jules said.
“I don’t care. I don’t care if I flunk all my classes.” Lisbeth walked out, and in a moment, they heard the television come on.
“So weird,” Allie said. “I’d much rather do an oral report than a written one. They’re so much easier. Remember that time I forgot I had to do one, and I made up the whole thing on the spot? I got a B.”
“I’ll work on her,” Jules said.
She spent the weekend badgering Lisbeth, who finally divulged that the report was supposed to be about the Transcendentalists.
“Oh, I love them! Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott…”
What are you supposed to say about them?”
“I have to sum up their ideas about God.”
“This’ll be fun!” Jules just happened to have a pad of paper and a pen, and she wrote The Transcendentalists across the top of the page. “First, you’ll talk about the prevailing ideas about religion…back then you were supposed to be afraid of God…”
“I’m not going to do it.”
“Let’s just make some notes, get a feeling for what you want to say, and then you’ll decide.”
Lisbeth shrugged. She waited while Jules wrote an outline, and pretended to read it.
“Of course you’ll want to put it into your own words.”
“Okay. Thanks, Jules.”
But on the morning she was scheduled to do the report, Lisbeth woke with a fever. She’d been up most of the night before coughing and sneezing, she said, and Allie, her roommate, concurred. Mom looked at the thermometer: 102.7. Jules, reading it over her shoulder, was baffled. Everyone faked being sick once in a while, but to actually concoct a temperature?
“Try to get some rest, honey,” Mom said, kissing Lisbeth’s hot forehead. “I’ll call my boss and let him know I won’t be in.”
Jules stepped out of the way as Mom walked past, then said, “Can you do the report another day?”
“No.” Lisbeth turned her back to Jules, and within a few minutes was sleeping blissfully; a prisoner whose sentence had been reprieved.
From his window, Simon could see Jules sitting at the picnic table in her backyard, writing. He watched her for a while, knowing he shouldn’t disturb her, and sighing as he admired her long, glossy brown hair. Her loose sweatshirt, as always, concealed any curves she might have, but he pictured her breasts being round and firm with the heft of ripe fruit. Desire for her made him ache, and he knew he was going to go out there, and there was no point in fighting it. Grabbing a jacket, he ran out the door.
When she saw him she said, “I just wrote the most brilliant story. Want to hear it?”
He said, “Yes,” sat across from her, and listened while she read. The title, “Back from the Dead,” misled him, sounding like a zombie kind of plot. Instead it turned out to be about a middle-aged man with cancer. It started out at a funeral, with the wife reminiscing about her life with him—how mean he was to her and the kids before he was diagnosed. It sounded like he had died and this was his funeral, but there was a twist at the end: he survived and the cancer changed him: he became a good husband and great father, and 20 years passed, and his wife was grateful for the cancer. So even though there were no zombies, it was still good. “I like it,” he said.
“Yeah, it was really interesting. Is this the story that Allie, um…”
Jules scowled, not quite over the scene from last month when she and Allie had a fight about something silly. Well, apparently not silly to Allie—she wanted to go with her and Simon to the movies, but Jules told her it wasn’t “a movie for morons,” it was a foreign film, The Three Brothers, based on “The Third Son” by Andrey Platonov. Understandably, Allie did not appreciate being called a moron, and as soon as the movie goers were out the door, she found the story Jules was working on and fed it into the shredder Dad had swiped from work. Jules, who had spent the entire movie working on an apology, was devastated that no one else seemed to agree that Allie’s response was way over the top. Only Lisbeth sided with her—later, and in private.
“No.” Jules answered Simon gloomily. “That one is gone forever. I can’t ever—”
“Well anyway,” Simon interrupted, “that’s a great story.”
“Thanks.” She tucked it and her pen back into a book bag. “Of course it’s just a first draft. I’ll give it a day and read it again and make some changes.”
“It sounded perfect to me.”
She laughed. “That never happens, Simon. You write something, then you edit it. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes it turns into a completely different story.”
“Like when you write a song. Sometimes you keep working the melody and it turns into something else.”
“Exactly! Which reminds me—I’ve been asking around at school for some musicians to be in a band with you.”
“I was going to do it a long time ago, but the problem was, I didn’t know who to ask. But then last week Lisbeth suggested I talk to Mr. Wilkes, the music teacher. I asked him who the best kids in the orchestra are. He said Eddie Harris, who plays the violin, and Kevin Chauncey, the drummer. So, want to meet them?”
“Okay!” When Jules promised to help him get a band together, he thought it was just a thing for her to say, and that nothing would come of it. People made promises all the time—that they’d write or call or come visit, or have you spend the summer at their new house—and then you never heard from them again. His own grandfather used to announce at the beginning of every spring that they’d go to a Red Sox game, and every fall he’d say, Wow, season’s over already! But there’s always next year, right?
“Eddie is considered a little bit of a nerd,” Jules said. “He’s thin and he wears glasses and he’s really smart. But he’s nice. I have him in a few of my classes.”
“What about the drummer?”
“Kevin. I don’t know him. He’s a jock. Real popular. Has that hot look girls like, you know?”
Simon nodded, trying to picture it: a thin, bespectacled violinist, a hot, popular jock drummer, and him. “Wish I could get Lissie in the band. She’s so good, she could handle the bass parts, too.”
Jules smiled. She loved how impressed Simon was with Lisbeth. It was one thing for her sisters and her to think Lisbeth was a genius, but Simon was a real musician, so his approval meant a lot. “Okay, Mr. Wilkes said they have rehearsal on Monday until five. We can walk over and meet them.”
“Eddie Harris? He’s such a nerd,” Mandy said. “And Kevin Chauncey! I heard he had an affair with Miss Spaulding, the science teacher! And wasn’t he arrested for drugs or something?”
“How come everyone thinks Eddie is such a nerd? Just because he’s smart and wears glasses? And we don’t know if those rumors about Kevin are true.”
“But have you ever seen him? He’s got that long, wild hair—and long hair has been out for five years. And he has an earring.”
“I like the way he looks. He’s different. Not a trendy jerk like Brent.”
“Leave Brent out of this.”
“Girls,” Mom said wearily, “do you mind? The rest of us are trying to enjoy our dinner.”
“I think he sounds dangerous,” Allie put in; her loyalties, as always, lay with Mandy.
Just as promptly, Lisbeth came to Jules’ aid: “Sometimes people who look like that are intense, and the best musicians and artists are intense.”
“Oh brother,” Allie said.
“It’s true!” Jules stabbed the air near Mandy’s face with her fork. “The most creative geniuses are always intense! Look at Fyodor Dostoyevsky!”
“I’d rather not,” Mandy snapped.
“If Mr. Wilkes says that Eddie and Kevin are the best, then they are,” Lisbeth said. Even though she was still in junior high, she’d been taking private lessons with Mr. Wilkes for two years, so the others accepted her judgement as sound, and resumed eating.
“Of course,” Jules said carefully, “Simon’s band will need a keyboard player too, at some point.”
All eyes turned to Lisbeth, who froze in place. After a moment she said, “Did Mr. Wilkes mention anyone?”
“You know he did,” Jules said. “He said you’re his best student ever. He said you should be playing in auditoriums.”
Lisbeth looked up, face glowing. “He said that?”
“Yup. He said…wait, how did he put it…he said you have great chops.”
“What does that mean?” Allie asked.
“It means Lisbeth is great. She should be in a band.”
Three forks halted on the way to three mouths, and three April women awaited Lisbeth’s response.
“Jules, come on. You know I can’t play in front of people.”
“You play in front of Simon.”
“Simon is family.”
“Lissie! Come on! You should…”
“Thank you, but I am not joining Simon’s band!”
“Simon will be so disappointed.”
“I love jamming with him and writing with him, but…”
“You and Simon have written songs?” Mom said, surprised.
“They’re good, too, I’ve heard them,” Allie said. “They’re good enough to be on the radio. Better.”
“How can you just waste all that talent? You have to share it! What if the members of Food of the Gods were too shy to make records? The whole world would be cheated out of all that great music!”
Lisbeth made a choking sound. “Food of the Gods! Mom, make her stop.”
“Stop,” said Mom, but she couldn’t keep from picturing her shy little protégé fearlessly performing in front of thousands of adoring fans.
“What about this,” Jules said. “After Simon and I get Eddie and Kevin in the band and they rehearse a couple of times, we’ll go over and listen to them.”
Lisbeth shook her head.
“We won’t even mention that you’re thinking about being in the band.”
“Good, because I’m not.”
“We’ll just say you’re my sister and you wanted to hear them. We won’t even tell them you play an instrument. I’ll tell Simon not to say a word.”
I didn’t agree, Lisbeth told herself firmly. I don’t have to go if I don’t want to.
On Monday Jules met Simon at his house and they walked to the high school. The orchestra was still playing, so they waited in the hall, peeking in the door’s window.
“That’s Eddie in the green shirt,” Jules said, “and see Kevin on the drums?”
Simon nodded. The music stopped. Mr. Wilkes said a few words, the door opened, and the young musicians poured out.
“Let’s talk to Eddie today, and then catch Kevin later,” Jules whispered. She and Simon stepped back as the notorious drummer walked past them. She saw that his eyes were very dark and lined with thick black lashes. A diamond sparkled in his right lobe. He had a couple days’ growth on his chin.
“Good idea,” Simon whispered back.
Eddie was less intimidating. They watched him snap his violin case shut and gather up his music, and then fell into step with him as he walked out.
“This is my friend Simon.”
“Hi.” Eddie regarded Simon quizzically, debating whether or not to put down his violin in order to shake hands.
Simon saw his predicament and nodded a greeting. “Hi.”
“Simon is forming a band, and we want to know if you would be in it.”
Eddie frowned. He was used to kids at school making fun of him; calling him a faggot and only being nice to him when they needed help with their homework. “What kind of band?”
“Very funny,” Eddie muttered, turned, and headed off in the other direction.
Jules and Simon exchanged startled glances, and then caught up with him. “What do you mean, very funny?” Jules asked.
“Very funny asking the nerd who plays violin to be in a rock band. Glad you think that’s such a cute joke.”
“It’s not a joke,” Jules said, and at the same time Simon explained, “Progressive rock. Like Kansas and ELO and the Moody Blues. We want to have that orchestral sound.”
Eddie studied him. Could they be serious? No one had ever invited him to be in anything. It was why he skipped gym class whenever he could. Not only was he always chosen last, but the team who got stuck with him always made a big deal out of it, as if loss was guaranteed. “Who else is in the band?”
“We’re going to ask Kevin Chauncey.”
“Oh.” Eddie grimaced.
“You know him?”
“I don’t know know him, but I heard he snorts coke every morning and got kicked out of school.”
“He’s good, though, isn’t he?”
“He’s amazing. But…”
“I have an idea,” Jules said, “why don’t you and Simon play together a couple of times before we talk to Kevin? It might be better if you sounded more…established.”
“I’m game,” Simon nodded. He sensed Eddie’s loneliness; a perpetual outsider himself, he knew what it was like to have no friends. “It’ll be fun.”
“Okay. Are you in the band, Jules?”
“Me? No. I can’t even read music.”
Eddie turned back to Simon. “How come you’re not in the orchestra?”
“I go to parochial school.”
“You like it?”
“Hate it. It’s just boys.”
“That’s what I tell him,” Jules said. “I tell him how lucky he is to go there instead of this dump.”
When they stepped outside they saw a woman waiting in a brown station wagon. She waved. Eddie waved back. “Hey, you guys want a ride?”
“Sure,” Jules said.
Eddie opened the passenger side door. “Mom, this is Jules and Simon. Can we drive them home?”
“Of course, honey! Hello, Jules and Simon! Get in.” She asked for their addresses, and said how nice it was that they lived next door to each other. Conversation was stilted in the way it is when kids and parents are in a confined space, and was made more awkward by Mrs. Harris’ obvious delight at her son’s two new friends. “I hope we see you both again soon!” she enthused as they thanked her and got out. She pulled into Simon’s driveway, backed out carefully and slowly, and then delivered a wave and a radiant smile as she drove off.