• robinstratton23

7. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jul 28, 2019

On the last day of school Mandy carefully erased all the pencil marks she’d made in her text books during the course of the year, and passed them in, class by class. She kept thinking, I will never do this again! When the final bell rang at noon, she made her way slowly up the hall. This is the last time I’ll do this. I’m all done! I’ll never do any of this again!
She was surprised to find herself feeling sad. Like most students, she’d spent her entire school career anticipating the day it would end; the day when there would be no more tests, no more homework. And now…it actually seemed a little overwhelming. The underclassmen, who wouldn’t get out for another month, were eagerly looking forward to their last day, because for them it wasn’t really the last day; they’d be back in September.
Stopping at her locker, she was swamped with sudden fear. What am I going to do with my life? Jules will be a writer, Lisbeth will be a musician, and Allie will be an artist. Not for the first time she became painfully aware of her lack of creativity. All she’d ever done was babysit. Maybe I could get a teaching certificate. But that would mean going back to school…
“Must be weird for you,” said Jules, coming up behind her.
“It is. I feel like, what now?” Mandy slammed her locker shut, and they headed back down the hall.
“What do you want to do?”
Mandy paused at the door of the auditorium and inhaled the familiar smell of sneakers and gum and chairs that needed their vinyl seats replaced, not just taped. Then she answered in a way she knew would infuriate Jules: “I just want to get married and have kids. I don’t care about a career or anything.”
“Have you looked at a calendar lately? It’s 1981.”
“I know.”
In silence, they walked out, Mandy letting the heavy door close behind them. “I hate feeling like you disapprove of me.”
“I don’t! I just don’t want you to fall madly in love yet. Wait a while.”
“How long?”
“Twenty years. Race you!” Jules took off.
“I don’t want to run!” Mandy called after her.
“Your last day of school!” Jules shouted back.
Mandy looked around to make sure no one she knew was watching her—running was so immature! and followed Jules down the sidewalk. “Wait up!”
Mandy picked up speed. Graciously, Jules slowed down a little, and soon they were neck and neck. But Mandy did calisthenics most afternoons and had no trouble passing Jules, who indulged in a bowl of ice cream every night.
“Hey,” Jules said, “wait up!”
And when they got home there was a big surprise waiting for them: Dad was sitting on their front step. He stood and waved. “Girls!”
They froze in place. “What the hell?” Mandy blinked.
“I can’t believe it,” Jules hissed. “Does he actually think we want to see him?”
“Maybe he changed his mind.”
Their gazes locked. Could he be back to stay?
“Let’s find out.”
As they approached him cautiously, he held out his arms, bubbling over with excitement: “I went next door and used the neighbor’s phone. Did you know that someone moved into the Henderson’s old house? I called your mom and she’s on her way. You both look amazing! Come here!”
Mandy yielded to his hug, but Jules backed away when he reached for her.
“So,” he said again, but with an appreciative dip in enthusiasm, “tell me what’s going on. How’s school? Mandy, I can’t believe you’re graduating! How do you feel?”
“Going to college?”
“College!” Jules snorted. “Who can afford college?”
“And Jules,” he said with a forced beam on his face. “Still reading all the time? And writing?”
“No, Dad, my life ended when you left. I don’t do anything. Don’t even go to school.”
His smile faded. “Any of the other girls inherit my temper, or just you?”
“What are you doing here?”
“What do you mean? You don’t think I’d miss Mandy’s graduation, do you?”
Mandy’s eyes opened wide. “Oh.”
But Jules said, “You moving back home?”
“Uh, no…just here for…Mandy. And your mother and I need to settle some things.”
“Where are you going to stay? You’re not going to stay here!”
“No, Jules. I’ll be at a motel. I don’t want to disrupt your lives any more than I have.”
“Gee, Dad. That’s great.”
“Jules, stop it.” Mandy took her key out of her purse and unlocked the door with hands shaking. “Let’s go inside.” Shock and joy and disappointment were crashing like cars inside her heart. She hadn’t expected him to come all this way to see her graduate! Why hadn’t Mom said anything?
Scowling, Jules followed her in. Dad brought up the lead, his eyes drinking in every detail, from the new throw pillows on the couch to the absence of the wedding photos that used to hang above the table in the foyer.
“Are you hungry, Dad?” Mandy asked. “I could make you something.”
“No, thank you, honey.” He glanced at Jules. “Nice manners, like your mother.”
Jules bristled; took offense. But before she could say something nasty, she heard Mom’s car pull into the driveway. All three hurried to the door, and Jules dashed out to greet her.
“He says he’s here for Mandy’s graduation. That’s bullshit!”
Mom didn’t even hear her. Dad stepped onto the porch. Why does he have to be so handsome? she thought, pained by his tan and his slender physique. He’s lost weight. He looks fantastic. All I’ve done since he left is eat and watch TV. I look horrible. She forced herself to smile. “How are you?” In a daze, she allowed him to kiss her on the cheek, and hug her. “Oh! Okay. Hi.”
“Hi,” he said. “I’m fine. How are you?”
“Fine. Fine, too. We’re fine.”
“Personally, I don’t believe this is happening,” Jules announced. “I’m so glad I know this is just a bad dream. Because if this was really happening…”
“Look,” Dad interrupted, “this isn’t easy for me…”
“Boo hoo, Dad, that’s a real shame!”
Mom held up her hand to shush her. “Have you eaten?”
“I’m all set. Thanks, honey.”
The honey slipped out; it meant nothing, was just something he said out of habit. But never to her—he’d always called her by name. She nodded, lowered her head. It hit her like a slap: he was in love with someone else already. A California girl. The cutest girls in the world. “Let’s go inside.”
One by one they filed back in, Jules didn’t want to look at Dad, so she looked at Mandy: She’s going through the same thing I’m going through, but she’s acting so different. She’s acting like a grownup. Dad probably still loves her, just like he always did. He’ll never love me again, that’s for sure. But who cares! I’ll never love him again, either!
“Will Lisbeth and Allie be home soon?”
“Any minute now. Mandy, will you and Jules please go into the kitchen and make, I don’t know, lemonade or iced tea or something?”
“Sure.” Mandy pulled Jules into the kitchen.
“If you lecture me…”
“I’m not going to lecture you. You have every right to be mad.” Mandy opened up the cabinet and took out a jar of Nestea powdered ice tea mix. Then she turned on the water and ran it until it got cold, monitoring its temperature with her finger.
“Why aren’t you mad?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’m just glad to see him.”
“After what he did to us?”
“He didn’t do anything to us. Remember how tense things were before he left? He did what he had to do, to be happy. It was hard on Mom, too, don’t forget. All that fighting.” Mandy filled a pitcher with water, measured out the tea mix, and stirred with a wooden spoon.
Jules didn’t answer, trying unsuccessfully to listen in on the conversation in the living room. What she heard instead was the sound of Lisbeth and Allie chatting as they made their way up the back porch. Jules opened the door and said, “Dad’s here—” but before she could warn them that it was just temporary, they squealed, dropped their books on the kitchen table, and ran into the living room.
“Dad!” Lisbeth said, flying into his arms.
He held her tight, tight, murmuring, “Lissie…Lissie, you beautiful thing!” and as soon as he pulled away so that he could look at her, Allie slipped into his embrace. “We missed you so much, Dad!”
Damn him! Mom thought This is just like him, to show up and think it’s such a great surprise! It would never occur to him that they might think he’s come back to stay! “Girls,” she said quietly.
“I can’t believe you’re really here!” Lisbeth said.
“Girls…your father’s only in town for a few days. For Mandy’s graduation. Then he’s going back to California.” She couldn’t face them, and turned away. But Jules watched the devastation; the hugs going limp, the pulverized dream.
Lisbeth said, “Oh,” in a surprised, hurt voice. Allie pulled away, her eyes hard.
“But we’ll spend every minute together,” Dad offered lamely.
“Of course we will.” Lisbeth recovered with her usual grace, and her arm went back around his waist. “Where are you staying?”
“Don’t be silly,” Mom said. “You can sleep on the couch.”
“Oh no,” he said right away, “that wouldn’t be a good idea. I mean… it just wouldn’t… but thanks anyway.”
He means his girlfriend wouldn’t like it, Mom thought, drenched in humiliation. That was so stupid, to invite him to stay here. What was I thinking?
“But we can go out to dinner tonight, can’t we?” His voice was husky with artificial cheer.
“That’ll be fun.” Lisbeth seemed to be the only one capable of normal speech. “Should we go to Stelio’s? I don’t think we’ve been there since…”
“Why don’t we try a new place,” Dad interrupted.
“A new place sounds good,” Mom agreed.
“You’ll excuse me if I don’t join you,” Jules said in a frigid tone. “I’m going to see Simon.” She stomped out, shouting, “And don’t try to stop me!”
They heard the door slam. It wouldn’t have occurred to any of them to try to stop her.
“And so he says, Let’s go to dinner and they’re all like, Okay, great! just like the last six months never happened,” Jules told Simon. They were in his living room; Jules having burst in and delivered her news without saying Hello. Dropping onto the couch, her heart still pounding with rage, she went on, “I mean, it’s good that he left. He and Mom weren’t getting along at all. They didn’t fight in front of us, really. But there was always tension. Mom was bummed out all the time.”
“So it’s good that he left, then.”
“But it’s not like Mom was happy once he was gone.”
“But she agreed to let him go, and she’s still nice to him. Your mom is amazing.”
“I know she’s amazing, but he…”
“But aren’t things better now? I mean, I never knew what it was like when he was there, just I’ve heard you talk about it. But, God, Jules—every time I go over there all you guys do is laugh and help each other and get along.” Simon remembered the day his mom left him at his grandfather’s for the last time…his tears; his questions, But why do I have to live here? Other kids live with their moms! Why can’t I live with you? went unanswered as she supervised the guy she’d hired to bring in all Simon’s clothes and toys, even the ones he never played with. You’re going to live here for just a little while, she finally said. But even at five years old, he knew it wouldn’t be for a little while. “You should be grateful.”
“You’re right. It’s just…you know, I wish things were…the way they were when we were kids.”
“Grandfather says that change is always difficult.” He’d said it the night Simon’s mom left him, and dozens of times since. “Even if it’s for the better.”
Jules sighed. “Yeah. But, I mean…so what, I should just welcome him back with open arms?”
“Can you?”
“Well, don’t forget, this is probably hard on him, too. He comes home and sees his kids growing up without him.” For years Simon had fantasized about his mom coming home; eyes wide with admiration as she put her hand over her heart and said, Look how big and handsome you are! The fantasy featured a magnificent apology from her; sometimes it was that she’d been really really sick and knew she couldn’t take care of him, but she was fine now…or that she’d been involved in some secret government plot that she couldn’t talk about, but was done with. Then she’d tell him she was going to bring him home. But no matter how hard he tried to finish the fantasy with him walking out the door with her, his grandfather always appeared, looking sad, and the fantasy always ended with Simon shaking his head and saying, No, thanks, I’m staying here.
“You’re right.” Jules said. “I guess I’m just not ready to forgive him yet. Even though I know he probably did the right thing.” In her mind she could still see everyone’s face: Mandy, so hopeful when they came home, the look in Mom’s eyes as they met on the porch, Lisbeth’s dismay when she heard he was staying in a motel, Allie’s silent anger.
“You don’t have to forgive him yet.”
“Good, because I don’t,” she grumbled, “He has a tan. He’s a jerk. Stupid…tanned…jerk.”
But calling him a name made her feel worse, not better.
© 2019 by Robin Stratton