• robinstratton23

5. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jul 28, 2019

Just as Mandy was slamming her locker shut, she felt a tap on her left shoulder. She turned her head, didn’t see anyone, then turned to the right, and found herself looking up into Brent’s hazel eyes.
“Hey,” he said.
Oh my God. “Hi.”
“How’s it going?”
“Fine.” Mandy glanced away, too shy to confront his gaze. “How’s it going with you?”
He laughed and mocked her, “Fine.
She laughed too; captivated by his smiles. And his hair—to die for! “Um… where’s Ashley?”
He shrugged. “Around, I guess.”
“Anyway, I wanted to talk to you.”
“About what?”
“Ashley just found out that her cousin will be in town for a couple of weeks, and her mother made her promise to take him to the prom.” Brent’s voice grew wistful. “Leaves me without a date.” Then he issued a carefree grin. “So I was wondering if you’d like to go with me?”
Mandy felt like her heart would pop−What a good thing I don’t already have a date! But should I pretend that I do? What would happen, would he be disappointed, would he ask me to try and get out of it? then she felt herself nod.
“Good. I’d rather take you anyway. Getting tired of Ashley.”
Mandy nodded again, hating her foolish inability to speak.
“Okay, so I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She nodded for the last time, and watched him saunter off. She knew that he knew she was watching him, but she couldn’t think or do anything but stare. Her heart was pounding so hard it was using up all her strength, and, weak, she leaned against her locker and replayed the conversation in her mind: Leaves me without a date… I was wondering if you’d like to go with me? Good, I’d rather take you anyway. Then she turned and ran down the hall.
“Brent asked me to go to the prom with him!” she burst out as soon as her sisters got home.
“What? He did?” Lisbeth dropped her books on the couch and stared.
“I knew it!” Allie said. “I knew he was going to ask you!”
“This is so awesome, Mandy!”
“I know!” Mandy opened her arms and got hugs from both her sisters. “I almost died!”
“Tell us exactly what he said!
“What who said?” Jules came in at that moment.
“Brent asked Mandy to go to the prom with him!” Allie said.
Jules didn’t even bother to hide her shock. “What about Ashley? He finally broke up with her?”
“Of course he did, or else he wouldn’t have asked Mandy,” Allie bristled. “God, Jules, sometimes you’re so−”
“Well,” Mandy interrupted reluctantly, “he didn’t… exactly break up with her yet. She, um… she has to go with her cousin.”
Alllie’s eyes opened wide. “….Oh!”
“But Brent said he was glad and that he’d rather take me anyway.”
“I'm sure,” Lisbeth said promptly. “Now tell us his exact words.”
As Mandy repeated the brief but very significant exchange, Jules studied the pure joy on the faces of Allie and Lisbeth, and thought, Why can’t I just be happy for her? Why can’t I hug her and congratulate her? She sighed. Because I can’t stop wondering why a selfish bitch like Ashley would agree to go to her prom with her cousin.
“Quit looking at me like that,” Mandy broke into her thoughts. “You’d like Brent if you’d just give him a chance.”
“She’s jealous,” Allie said.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Jules smirked. “I’m jealous because I want to go to the prom with Brent.”
“She’s just surprised,” Lisbeth said. “She’ll come around.”
The following Saturday all four April girls went to the mall to shop for a prom gown. But the nice ones were too expensive, and the cheap ones were tacky. The gown Mandy fell in love with was almost a hundred dollars.
“I know Ashley’s gown will be unbelievable,” Mandy said. “If only we weren’t so poor.”
“We’re not poor. The guy Simon and I saw in Boston a couple of weeks ago sleeping on a grate wearing bags on his feet—he was poor,” Jules said. She couldn’t look at Mandy’s face. I have to get her that gown.
“It’s so sad. She wants it so bad,” Jules told Simon a few days later. “And it’s perfect on her. Brent would die if he saw her in it.”
“Jules, please let me give Mandy the money.”
“No. That’s sweet. But Mandy would never take money from you.”
“Let me lend it to her, then.”
“She wouldn’t want to borrow from you, either.”
“Would she take money from you?”
“Maybe. But I don’t have a hundred dollars.”
“Sell me something.”
“Sell me something.”
“Like what? My body?”
Simon laughed. “I may be rich, but I’m not that rich.”
They went into the kitchen to make hot chocolate. Jules emptied two packets of cocoa into each mug and stirred as carefully as she could trying not to spill the powder over the edge. Not that it mattered if she made a mess—Simon’s grandfather had a cleaning woman who came in every morning. “Seriously,” she said, “what do I have that you would want to buy?”
“Let's go to my room.”
She followed him up the stairs, curious now. They sat on the bed, opposite one another, and he said, “I have to write a paper and I keep putting it off because I stink at writing. I’ll pay you to write it for me.”
“Simon! That’s unethical!”
“I’m going to be a musician. I don’t need to be able to write papers. It's totally unrelated to my field.” He waited while she considered it; he could almost hear her thoughts: If I do this, I can give Mandy the money for the gown. But it’s not right to write his paper for him… but who would know? And Mandy would be able to buy her gown. “If I write it, I’ll probably get a failing grade, and that’ll bring my average down, and then I might not be able to go to college. And education is so important for—”
“You don’t give a rat’s ass about your grades. What’s the paper on?”
“How the stage was set for World War II. I was going to ask Gramps about it, because he was a Marine then. And it might be interesting, to hear him talk about it. But I still wouldn’t be able to write it.”
“The stage was set,” Jules said, “because of a recent economic crisis in Germany. I mean, there are a ton of reasons why the country put Hitler in charge. People were scared, people were desperate.”
“See what I mean? You could probably write it without doing any research at all!”
“Simon, I’d be glad to help you with it. You wouldn’t need to pay me.”
“I’d never ask you to do this for me and not expect to pay you. Thing is, I know a kid who writes papers for other kids. Really smart guy. And I was thinking about asking him.”
“So I’d much rather give the money to you, to give to Mandy. Jules, really. It’s a perfect solution.”
“Well… ”
“If you don’t do it, what’s Mandy going to wear to the prom? Just a regular dress that she’s worn fifty time and everyone has seen? And all the other girls will be wearing prom gowns, and she’ll be the only one who—”
“Okay, okay. Let me think.” Jules wrestled with her conscience for a moment longer. Lots of kids had offered her money to write their papers, and she’d always said No. But this was different. Plus, what a fascinating subject: how one crazy madman was able to convince humans to kill other humans for no reason except that they were Jewish or homosexuals or leftists or gypsies. She sighed. “Okay.”
“Oh thanks! Here.” From his wallet he took out a fifty dollar bill and handed it to her. “I can get you the other fifty tomorrow. I’ll go to the bank after school.”
“Won’t Gramps want to know why you’re withdrawing so much money?”
“He never checks my account, he trusts me.” When still she hesitated, he said, “Jules, really. There’s lots of money in there that he’s given me over the years for Christmas, my birthday. I get an allowance, too.”
“Well… ” Jules felt weird, but finally she nodded, took it, folded it, and put it in her pocket. “I won’t give it to Mandy yet, I’ll wait a couple of days, and then tell her it’s some money I’ve had for a while. Thank you thank you, Simon! She's is going to be so psyched!”
She was. Her mouth dropped open when Jules handed her two $50 bills, and she said, “Where did you get that?”
“Here and there. You know me, I never buy anything. So it’s just been sitting around.”
“Jules! I can’t take that from you!”
“Shut up.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course.”
“Oh Jules! Thank you! I’ll pay you back as soon as I can!”
“Whatever. It doesn’t matter.”
Mandy hugged her. “It does so matter, it matters to me!”
Mom caught her breath when she saw Mandy in the gown; delicate blue with a sweetheart neckline, and a wide waistband that accentuated Mandy’s tiny waist, and a full skirt.
“You look like a dream!” Mom said.
“Brent will probably ask you out and you’ll start spending all your time with him and be all different,” Jules grumbled, trying not to regret her decision to interfere.
“I doubt that he’d ask me out in front of Ashley. Don’t forget, she’ll be sitting at our table with her cousin.”
“Yeah. Only a guy with no class would do something like that.”
“Oh Jules.” Mandy, so grateful for the dress, couldn’t be annoyed at her sour sister. “Thank you so much for the loan!”
Jules shrugged; sneaked a glance at Mom. If Mom found out that the money came from Simon, she would tell Jules to give it back. Then Mandy would have to return the gown. And that would be such a bummer. Best to just keep up the sham. “What color is Brent’s tux?”
“Navy blue.”
Allie said, “So, how’d you save up a hundred dollars?”
“Navy blue, huh?” Jules nodded heartily. “Good.”
“But how’d you save up−”
“Jules is so generous,” Lisbeth, who’d been taken into Jules’ confidence earlier in the day, intervened smoothly. “Remember that time she bought me that orange ski cap? Remember? Because I kept getting colds?”
“It was a yucky orange,” Allie said. “It didn’t go with your coat.”
“Come on, Jules,” Mandy said, “you have to admit Brent is gorgeous.”
“He’s okay. He’s too… I don’t know, perfect or something. I like Simon’s looks better.”
“Simon’s a cute boy. But Brent is a man.”
“He’s so vain. Just the sight of him annoys me. I don’t understand what you see in him.”
“You know something, Jules?” Mandy’s voice was solemn as she studied her reflection in the mirror Allie had propped up against the couch. “I can’t explain why I like him. I’ve spent hours trying to figure it out. You’ve always been able to read people better than I could, so I assumed there was something weird about me. That I wasn’t seeing him clearly or something. And finally I decided I don’t care. I like him and I can’t help it.”
“I don’t get it! If you know he’s a jerk−”
“I didn’t say he was a jerk. I said maybe it didn’t make sense for me to like him.”
“Well so why… ”
“There’s no way to explain it. All I can say is, someday you’ll meet someone and you won’t be able to keep yourself from falling for him. Whether it makes sense or not. Even if he drives you crazy.”
Jules shook her head. “Not me.”
© 2019 by Robin Stratton