7. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online
Updated: Jan 9
MANDY WAS WAITING outside Jules’ class when the bell rang. “Hi.”
“Hi…I thought you got out at noon today?”
“I did. But I walked to Dunkin Donuts and had a coffee and waited for you to get out.”
Jules nodded and they walked down the hall together. Like the rest of the underclassmen, she had another month left of school, but today was Mandy’s last day. “It must feel so weird,” she said as she took the books she’d need for the weekend from her locker, “to know you’re not coming back in the fall.”
“It is. I feel like, what now?”
“What about college?”
“I know this’ll piss you off, but I just want to get married and have kids. I don’t care about a career or anything.”
“Mandy, have you looked at a calendar lately? It’s 1981.”
“I know, but I don’t have any skills.”
“Shut up, you do too.”
“Really? What.” When Jules didn’t answer, she said, “See?”
“Stop. There must be something. Fashion, or childcare.” Jules slammed her locker shut. “Or retail? You love to shop.”
Mandy sighed, and together they headed for the exit. “I’ve spent my whole life looking forward to the day I wouldn’t have to go to school. No more tests, no more papers, no more reading stuff that’s boring. I hate school.”
“Yeah, but college is completely different from high school. You get to pick your classes, and you get to live in a dorm…”
“Jules, even if I wanted to go to college, I couldn’t afford it. I’m not smart like you, I could never get a scholarship.”
“What about just taking some classes?”
“I was sitting at the table drinking coffee, waiting to feel wicked excited, and it occurred to me that I don’t have any interests in anything. I never realized it” She cast a glance at Jules and her tone was just the tiniest bit resentful. “You can’t understand, because you’ve known you want to be a writer since you were about two weeks old. And I hate feeling like you disapprove of me.”
“Mandy, I don’t disapprove of you at all! I just don’t want you to think your whole life needs to be about being a wife and someone’s mother.”
Mandy didn’t answer, and Jules tried to come up with something else to say. But what was there? Having a husband and kids—that was the very last thing in the world she’d ever want! They walked in silence for a little while, and then she felt Mandy grab her arm. "Look: there’s a car in our driveway.”
Jules looked up and squinted. “I don’t recognize it. Oh…!”
“Girls!” Dad leapt up from the porch and gave a big wave.
“What’s he doing here?” Jules felt her whole body tense up. “Does he actually think we want to see him?”
“Maybe he changed his mind?”
As they approached him cautiously, he held out his arms, bubbling over with happiness: “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, 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?”
His smile faded. “I’m fine, Jules, how are you?”
“What are you doing here?”
“What do you mean? You don’t think I’d miss Mandy’s graduation, do you?”
Mandy said, “Oh.”
“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 so thoughtful of you.”
“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 shopping carts inside Jules’ heart. So now he’s Number One Dad because he flies home to see Mandy graduate? Scowling, she followed Mandy inside, and wondered if Dad noticed that the wedding photo no longer hung above the table in the foyer.
“Are you hungry, Dad?” Mandy asked. “I could make you something.”
“No, thank you.” He glanced at Jules. “Nice manners, like your mother.”
Jules bristled; 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. “Did you know he was coming, or did he just, like, show up?”
Mom didn’t answer, and when Dad stepped onto the porch and reached for her, she melted into his arms. “Hey,” she said.
“Hey,” he said back. “How are you?”
“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…”
“Jules,” Dad interrupted, “this isn’t easy for me…”
“Boo hoo, Dad, that’s a real shame!”
Mom held up a hand to shush her. To Dad she said, “Have you eaten?”
“I’m all set. Thanks, honey.”
Jules saw Mom cringe. Dad never called her honey, he always called her by her name, or Mom. It hit Jules like a slap: he was in love with someone else already. A California girl. The cutest girls in the world.
“Let’s go inside,” Mom said quietly.
One by one, they filed back in.
“Will Lisbeth and Allie be home soon?” Dad asked.
“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…” Jules began.
“I’m not going to lecture you. You have every right to be mad.” Mandy opened the cabinet and took out a jar of Nestea powdered iced 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 sort of 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? I miss him, but life is easier without him being around when he was in a shitty mood. Remember all the fighting? It’s better for Mom that he left.” 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! Jules 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!
“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.” Mom turned away, but Jules watched the devastation; the hugs going limp, the pulverized dream.
Lisbeth said, “Oh,” in a startled, hurt voice. Allie pulled away, her eyes hard.
“But we’ll spend every minute together,” Dad offered weakly.
“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, Jules thought, and she wanted to slap him. Hard.
“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 said.
“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, ‘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. Her heart was still pounding with rage.
“But Jules, haven’t things been better since he left? I mean, I never knew what it was like when he was there, but I’ve heard you talk about it a lot: the fighting, and him drinking and sleeping on the couch.”
“Yeah, the last few months were so bad.”
“Well, every time I’m at your house, all you guys do is laugh and hang out and listen to music and watch TV together.” Simon remembered the day his mom left him at his Grandfather’s that last time; his pleas, his tears. His question, “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 would be for forever. “All you guys do is laugh,” he said again.
“You’re right, Simon. It’s just…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 mother left him, and dozens of times since. “Even if it’s for the better.”
Jules frowned. “Yeah. But I mean…so what, I should just welcome him back with open arms?”
“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 mother coming home; eyes wide with admiration as she put her hand over her heart and said, Look how big and handsome you are! The scenario 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 tell him about because it would put him in danger, but she was done with it now, and justice had prevailed due to her efforts and great sacrifice. Then she’d hold out her hand and say, Come on, Simon, let’s go home. But no matter how hard he tried to finish the fantasy with him walking out the door, Grandfather would appear, looking sad, and it always ended with Simon shaking his head—No, thanks, I’m already home—and her self-berating hysterics, which, oddly, gave him no satisfaction. He sighed. “But I know that forgiving someone is really hard.”
“Oh shit, Simon, how insensitive of me. Your mom left you and you never even knew your father. I’m so sorry!”
“No, it’s not. It’s typical egocentric behavior from me. So sorry.”
“Really, it’s okay.”
She put her hand on his arm. “I meant to tell you: the other day after you left, Mom said she’d love if you started calling her Mom instead of Mrs. April.”
Simon felt warmth spread through him, like butter on toast. “Really?”
“Really. She loves you, Simon. We all do.” The conversation was suddenly too intense for her, and she leapt up from the couch. “I have to go. Thanks for listening.”
“Okay.” He walked her to the door, and after he shut it behind her, he whispered the word he never got to say: “Mom.”
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!