4. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Jan 7
JULES COULD TELL something was bothering Lisbeth: she’d come in, said “Hi,” very 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.” Lisbeth 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 Brewer 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! 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.” Jules’ 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.” Jules quickly composed an outline and a list of the major figures in the movement. “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 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 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. Seriously, there was no point in fighting it. Grabbing a jacket, he ran out the door.
When she saw him, she said, “I just wrote a story. It’s called ‘Back from the Dead.’ Want to hear it?”
Thinking it was about zombies, he said, “Yes,” and sat across from her.
The story started out at a funeral, with the wife of the deceased reminiscing about their life together—how mean he was to her and the kids. Some of the memories were really horrible: drinking and shouting, fists through doors, and cruel name calling. Then came the diagnosis of cancer. Simon assumed that he had died, but there was a twist at the end: cancer forced the guy to look at his behavior, and he decided to change his ways. After that, he became a loving husband and great father, and for 25 years, he and his family were happy.
“It’s about getting a second chance,” Jules said.
“I really liked it.”
“You didn’t see that ending coming, did you? You thought he was a real mean guy who died, right?”
“Yeah. The line about his wife being grateful for cancer was so different. You don’t usually think of cancer as something to be grateful for.”
“Oh good, that’s how I want readers to react.” She was smiling as she skimmed it. “Funny thing about this story. Remember when we went to see The Three Brothers last week?”
“Yeah, it was good.”
“Well as you know, it’s based on a story by Andrey Platonov. And Allie wanted to come with us. But I told her it was a foreign film, not a movie for morons.”
“You said that?”
“Yeah, it was shitty of me, I know now. Anyway, I just didn’t feel like having her tag along with us. She wouldn’t have appreciated the texture and the nuances. You know?”
“Anyway, I didn’t tell you, but I felt horrible the whole time we were in the theatre. I couldn’t wait to get home and apologize. But when I got home, I found out that she’d sneaked into my room and took the story I was working on and fed it into Dad’s shredder.”
“Way! So we had a huge fight. Lisbeth and Mandy got involved, then Mom joined in…everyone was shouting and telling everyone else to be quiet.”
Simon couldn’t picture them fighting and shouting, no matter how hard he tried. “So what happened?”
“We settled down. She cried. I said I was sorry and she said she was sorry. She asked if I could just write the story again, and I said No. But then…I did. And it’s better.” She slipped her notebook and her pen into her bookbag. “Of course it’s just an early draft. I’ll give it a day and read it again and make some changes.”
“It sounded perfect to me.”
“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 right away but I didn’t know who to ask. 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?”
Simon nodded. 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 call or visit or go somewhere with you—and then you never heard from them again. 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 tried 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.”
“I love that you’re so impressed with her, Simon. It’s one thing for us to think she’s a genius, but since you’re a musician, it means a lot.”
He shrugged, awkward and modest and pleased. “Thanks.”
“So 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 LaBelle, 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 afro—afros have been out since the 70s! 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 nodded. “The most creative geniuses are always intense! Look at Fyodor Dostoyevsky!”
“I’d rather not,” Mandy said.
“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. 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 should be in a band.”
Four forks halted on the way to four mouths, and four Aprils 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 asked, surprised.
“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 scared to make records? The whole world would be cheated out of all that amazing music!”
Lisbeth made a choking sound. “Food of the Gods! Mom, make her stop.”
“Stop,” said Mom in a half-assed way.
“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.”
“No.” She looked down so she wouldn't have to see their disappointed faces.
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 yellow shirt,” Jules said, “and see Kevin on the drums?”
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.
“Good idea,” Simon whispered back. They stepped aside as the notorious drummer walked past them, then waited for Eddie; watching as he snapped his violin case shut and gathered up his music.
Jules said, “Hi, Eddie.”
“This is my friend Simon.”
“Simon is forming a band, and we want to know if you’d be in it.”
Eddie frowned. “What kind of band?”
“Very funny.” He 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.
“What, you need my help with math or something?”
“Eddie, honest. No.”
Simon explained, “Progressive rock. Like Kansas and ELO and the Moody Blues. We want to have that orchestral sound.” He waited out Eddie’s skeptical scrutiny, suddenly feeling a connection, sensing a fellow loner. “I heard you play in there. You sound great.”
At last, Eddie’s expression eased up, and they started to walk down the hall. “Maybe. Who else is in the band?”
“We’re going to ask Kevin Chauncey.”
“Are you serious?”
“I heard he snorts coke. And didn’t he spend some time in jail? And is in a gang or something?”
“He’s good, though, isn’t he?”
“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.”
“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. “That’s my mom,” Eddie explained. “You guys want a ride home?”
“Sure,” said Jules.
Eddie opened the passenger side door. “Mom, this is Jules and Simon. Can we drop them off?”
“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. Simon was warmed by her obvious delight at her son’s two new friends, and when she chirped, “I hope we see you both again soon!” he said, “You will.” As she backed carefully out of his driveway, she delivered a happy wave and he waved back.