• robinstratton23

9. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Jan 16


THE TIME IS GOING by so fast, Jules thought, sitting in psychology class during the last week of school listening to a lecture about drug-induced psychosis. I better talk to Kevin soon or I’ll miss my chance.


She’d been researching him the way she read blurbs on a dust jacket before buying a book; had made casual inquiries, and learned that while he rarely participated in class, he always knew the answers when called upon, and his grades were decent. What’s more, she’d been unable to find anyone who could prove or had personally witnessed any of the indiscretions he was reported to have committed, including the affair with Miss LaBelle, the science teacher. He seemed to have no close friends at school, took an advanced mathematics class, worked one afternoon a week at a music store, and had been left in charge of the orchestra twice when Mr. Wilkins was out. It was definitely time to approach him.


“You do all the talking,” Eddie urged Jules. “He scares me. I’m not even sure I want to be in a band with him.”


“No offense,” Jules said, “but you sound kind of racist.”


“It’s not because he’s Black! He’s just…he’s just so cool. I find those kind of guys intimidating.”


“But he’s good, isn’t he?” Simon asked. They were in his bedroom not practicing because Grandfather was downstairs. Simon had his guitar on his lap and was fingering some chords. Without an amp, the strings had a demure bell-like quality that Jules often preferred to his full-blown jamming.


“Yeah, but, he’s sort of arrogant. Like he knows he’s the best.”


“We’re not asking for St. Francis,” Jules said. “If he’s as good as you say, we want him.”


Simon stopped strumming. “If he’s that good and that cool, he might not want to be in a band with us.”


A horn honked. Eddie cocked his head, listening, then said, “That’s my mom, I have to go. See you guys tomorrow.”



Even Jules was a little nervous as she and Simon peered through the window in the door watching the students chat and pack up their instruments. Kevin had an air of confidence that was impressive; plus he was annoyingly good looking, with beautiful dark skin and very white teeth, and the rolled-up sleeves of his tight t-shirt showed off muscles and a tattoo. Seated at the drum set, he practiced a rhythm, then spun the stick in his right hand like a majorette with a baton.


Nearby, Eddie slipped his violin into its case, shooting a glance at Kevin before hurrying out to join them. “I’m not saying anything,” he reminded them.


Jules nodded and took a deep breath as Kevin stood, shoved his sticks into his back pocket. As soon as he came out the door, she stepped into his path. “Hey, Kevin.”


“Hey.”


“I’m Jules.”


“I know. You’ve been following me for weeks. What’s up?”


“Oh! Was I that obvious?”


“Just the time you were loitering outside the boys’ bathroom.”


She could tell he wasn’t angry, and she laughed. “Okay, that was extreme.”


He laughed too. “So…?”


“My friends are forming a band and they want to know if you want to be in it. If you aren’t already in one.”


“Really?” He shifted his gaze to Eddie and Simon. "Kinda music you guys play?”


Simon listed off several bands they liked. Kevin’s eyes lit up at the mention of Food of the Gods. “Okay, check it out,” he said. “I just left my last band. They weren’t dedicated enough. They had other shit—girlfriends, jobs. Kept cancelling. You guys willing to put in the time?”


Simon and Eddie nodded earnestly.


“Where do you practice?”


“My house. When my grandfather goes out to play Bridge,” Simon admitted.


“How often?”


“Once a week.”


Kevin frowned. “Twice a week’s better..”


“Simon can’t play more than once a week at his house because his grandfather doesn’t even know he plays, but he could go to someone else’s house,” Jules said quickly.


“Uh huh. Well, what night? Give me the address and I’ll stop by.”


“Wednesday,” Jules answered and gave him directions.


“Okay. Maybe I’ll see you.” Kevin tipped his head at Eddie. “If you’re half as good as this dude, we just might have something. Catch you later.”


As he walked off, Eddie, beaming from the compliment, said, “Wow, he’s really nice.”


“He had a little bit of an attitude,” Simon complained. “He made us feel like we were begging him.”


“Oh, Simon, lighten up,” Jules said. “Once he gets to know us, he’ll love us. He was just on the defensive. I think he didn’t expect us to invite him to join a band. I think he expected me to say I had a crush on him.”


“Do you?”


“Yeah, right,” she laughed.



Simon and Eddie were setting up in Grandfather’ den when they heard a knock on the door. Jules, settled in a slouch on the sofa with Camus’ The Plague, sat up. “Must be Kevin.” She got up, disappeared, and returned a moment later with him. He looked around, and then startled them by clapping sharply. “The acoustics suck in here.”


Simon, Eddie, and Jules waited, like applicants for a job interview, and then Jules said apologetically, “It’s all we’ve got.”


Kevin clapped again. “Might be okay. I’ll go get my drums.” He headed back out. Simon plugged into his amp (which he kept hidden in his closet) and was playing a lick he’d been working on when Kevin returned. Pausing in the doorway, a piece of his drum set in each hand, he said, “Hey, dude. That sounds good.”


Simon looked up, flattered. “Yeah?”


“Yeah.” Kevin set up quickly, did a few rolls, and then the three musicians fell into a jam that grooved enough to distract Jules from her book.


During a short break Simon explained, “Grandfather is gone from 6:30 to 10:00 so we have to be in and out before he gets home. I can practice somewhere else if I tell him I’m studying with someone, but only a couple of nights a week. On the other nights I have a tutor. Even in the summer. It’s a drag.”


“Nah, it’s cool,” Kevin said. “Next year I’ll be a senior, so my grades are important to me, too.”


“Could we practice at your house? Eddie’s parents won’t let us go to his house.”


“My mom would, but my dad won’t,” Eddie clarified.


“Sure. We can practice here once a week and at my house once a week. My parents aren’t too thrilled with my music, either. Always want me to play that surfing shit.”


They all laughed, and suddenly the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. “Let’s try a few tunes,” Simon suggested, and masterfully executed the opening riff to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “I Know a Little.” Kevin fell in with the beat, and when Eddie did the piano solo perfectly on his violin, Kevin stopped playing and held up his hand. “Okay, that was fucking amazing.”

Eddie grinned. Jules saw that everything was going to work out, and began to formulate a plan to bring Lisbeth over.



SCHOOL FINALLY ENDED and summer arrived. Stretched out on lawn chairs in the back yard, the four April girls surrendered their bodies to the sun. For a few minutes they chatted about the royal wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. Jules was still laughing at the way the new princess screwed up the order of the prince’s names, and Mandy argued that she’d probably been nervous. Jules commented that she hated the Pulitzer Committee’s recent choice, A Confederacy of Dunces, and couldn’t understand the rave reviews. Lisbeth told them exactly how long it had been since Terry Kath, the guitarist for Chicago, had died (3 years, 6 months, 9 days). And then they all drifted to their individual thoughts.


Mandy knew her typing and shorthand skills looked good on her resume, but it would be so nice to have something more exciting than a secretarial job. If only I was at least slightly interesting!


Jules, in an unfashionable navy blue one-piece that was so sturdy she’d been able to extract three summers of wear out of it, had agreed to sunbathe only to oblige her sisters, and justified her idleness by thinking about her novel, Elliot. She felt she’d done a good job of showing how too much pressure from Elliot’s parents crippled him emotionally before he reached adolescence, but at the same time, she wanted to present his mother and father in a realistic light: They weren’t trying to mess him up, they thought they were doing a good thing.


Lisbeth was mourning the impending dispersion of the April girls: Mandy would get a job and meet new people, Jules would spend the summer hanging out with Simon, and Allie always went on long walks looking for stuff to draw. Lisbeth felt a stab of pain in her stomach. My sisters are all going to be so successful! I’ll always be the April girl who never amounted to anything, who never even left home. If only I wasn’t so shy! If only I had the guts to join Simon’s band!


Allie was concentrating on making sure that no part of her body was shaded by any other part, that her bikini was on exactly straight with no strings causing untanned lines, that her chin was tilted upward to evenly expose her neck. Even though the sun was bright, she was careful not to squint. Squinting made wrinkles around your eyes. When I’m a famous artist I’ll be in magazines and on TV, and I have to look good.


Simon leapt the fence and caught sight of the four girls sunning themselves, the stood in silence, admiring them; knowing it was wrong, but powerless to do anything but stare.

Mandy’s body first. She was all legs, with long, slender thighs and delicate ankles, and toenails painted red. Her belly button, nestled in her flat tummy, seemed to wink at him. And those breasts! So perfect and round and firm! Not like the huge hanging ones in his magazines with the really big nipples.


He dragged his gaze from her to Jules. Her suit didn’t show anything besides the basic lines of her body. Still, since Simon rarely ever saw her in anything but a baggy sweatshirt or sloppy tee shirt, she looked almost naked to him. She wasn’t as curvy as Mandy, and not as thin. More like…she had a comfortable body. She looked strong and healthy, but also as if maybe it was time to cut back on the candy bars Simon bought for her. His thoughts turned lustful, and for the millionth time, he wondered when their relationship would get hot. He pictured it happening one night while his grandfather was out playing Bridge. He and Jules would be alone in the house. The music would be low and the lights dim. They’d be sitting close together on the sofa. He’d put his hand on her leg. She’d turn to him. They’d kiss. His hands would travel up her shirt (in his fantasy Jules was, inexplicably, wearing a white tank top and no bra.) Simon’s imagination roused his penis, and shamed, he put his hand on his erection, hoping to tame it.


Lisbeth was next, her thin, undeveloped body, the outline of her ribs visible in her lime green suit. Simon wished she’d eat more and put on weight. He wished she would join his band.


His erection settled down, and he concluded his inventory with Allie. He could tell she was going to be incredible in a few years, maybe sooner. She had amazing hair and stunning blue eyes, but what Simon loved were her lips. Pink and pouty. With difficulty, he held in a sigh. He knew she was just a kid, but sometimes he thought about what it would be like to kiss her. He once mentioned her lips to Tim during a lesson about the three branches of the U.S. government, and Tim said, “Growing up male in this society is enough to drive you crazy, Simon. Everywhere you look you see something you want but can’t have. Your hormones are going insane, and everything turns you on. But don’t worry, that will change.” Simon hoped so. Standing there, he suddenly felt like some lecherous creep; the kind that got arrested for looking in other people’s windows. Quietly, praying none of the girls would open her eyes and see him, he slipped over the fence, back into his yard, and then shouted “Hello!” and waited for an invitation to join them.


They jumped at the sound of his voice, and all four sat up. “Simon! Come on over!” Jules called.


“Well, if you insist.” He leapt over the fence again. Jules made room for him at the foot of her lawn chair, and he sat and distributed his grin all around. “Ladies of leisure.”


“This is probably the only chance I’ll get to do this,” Mandy said. “Next week I’m going to start setting up job interviews.”


“I can’t believe you’re not going back to school in the fall,” Jules said. “It’s so weird.”


“I know.”


“You must feel so old.”


“Totally.”


“And my Lissie going to high school in September!” Jules said fondly.


“I’m scared to death.”


“Don’t worry, I’ll be there. The school seems a lot bigger, but by the end of the first day you’ll know your way around. If you want, I can walk over with you a few days before school starts and show you around.”


“I’ll be starting junior high,” Allie put in. “I’m pretty old, too.”


“My little baby in junior high,” Mandy shook her head.


“And no more tutor for me,” Simon announced.


“How come?” Jules asked.


“He got a full-time teaching job. He starts in September.”


“So he won’t be over anymore?” Jules was a little disappointed; she’d gotten used to seeing him a couple of times a week.


“He said he’ll stop by and stuff.” Simon felt Allie staring at him and turned to her. “What.”


“I was just thinking.” She paused to adjust her bikini to accommodate her upright position. “A year ago, we didn’t even know you. Now I can’t imagine not seeing you all the time.”


“Me either.” He was pleased.


“Wonder what we’ll all be like a year from now?”


“Or ten years from now?”


“In ten years I’ll be 22. Lisbeth will be 25.”


“I’ll be 28. That’s almost 30!” Mandy shuddered.


“Don’t worry, you’ll be married by then, and have three kids,” Lisbeth said.


“Well I’m sure we’ll all be married.” Allie settled back.


“Jules, you’ll be 27. You’ll be a famous writer,” Lisbeth predicted.


Jules nodded. “Simon will be a famous musician and Allie will be in Paris creating art that is trés magnifique. What about you, Lisbeth?”


“I don’t know,” Lisbeth answered after a minute. “Hopefully I’ll think of something.”



Not again! Lisbeth thought. She swallowed, and sure enough, her throat was scratchy. Another cold? She fought back tears. She’d missed so much school last year that her guidance counselor had advised summer school. And now I’m going to have to stay home tomorrow. What happens when you miss too much summer school? Night school? She pictured her sisters, proudly graduating on time. I’ll be 80 before I get out. Somehow she made it through the rest of the morning, and then headed home.


Her sisters were in the kitchen. Mandy, seated at the table looking through the want ads, greeted her with a big smile; then saw her expression. “Are you okay?”


“Sore throat. I’m going to lie down.”


“What about lunch before you…”


“No, I’m not hungry.” Lisbeth disappeared down the hall. She heard Mandy call after her, “Feel better!” and got into bed, still dressed. She had just enough energy to cry for a few minutes, then fell sound asleep.


When Mom came in a few hours later, she sat on the bed and slipped the thermometer into her mouth. Together they waited in silence, and when Mom took it out, she said, “A hundred and one.”


“I’m freezing.”


“I’ll get you some aspirin.”


“I took some already.” Lisbeth clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering, trembling from head to toe. Her fists, grasping the sheets, used up the last of her strength.


“I wish you’d have something to eat…get something in your tummy…?”


“No, thanks.”


“Juice?”


“Yuck. No.”


“Crushed ice?”


“I don’t know.”


“It’ll soothe your throat and bring the fever down. Okay?”


“Okay.”


The idea of sitting up, chewing something…of exerting the energy to pretend to feel better…exhausted her. But she sat, and when Mom returned with a cup of crushed ice, she spooned out a piece.


Mom leaned over and kissed her. “Get some more rest and I’ll check in on you in a little while.”


“Okay.”


Lisbeth tried to stay awake until Mom came back, but dozed, and woke up hours later to a dark, silent house. The clock on her nightstand said 3:34. Despair swept through her and she shut her eyes. Why am I always sick? What have I done to deserve this? She tried to think: Had she been really mean to someone, and this was her punishment? Was God mad at her? I wish He would just leave me alone! But right away the idea of being abandoned by God terrified her. Hot nausea shot through her, making her sweat. Hurriedly, she threw off the blankets, but even while she was stretching her legs out to the cool night air, she was already pulling the covers back up to her chin, abruptly chilled to the bone.


Determined to think about something else, she drew in a couple of deep breaths. But it was an unhappy thought that came to her, the terrible memory of the very first time she’d had to speak in front of her class when she was seven: The other kids were giggling at her, and Miss Carson said, “Lisbeth, dear, speak up, we can’t hear you.” Face burning, Lisbeth tried to decide if she should start over or keep going. Easier to just keep going. But Miss Carson said, “Lisbeth. Dear. We can’t hear you. You have to speak louder.” Lisbeth’s hands started to shake, and the paper made a thunderous crackling. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. She couldn’t look at anyone. To her horror, she felt like she was going to throw up. In front of everyone! She turned and ran out of the room. “Lisbeth!” She heard Miss Carson call. But she didn’t stop, she just ran down the hall, out the front door, and headed for home. She was crying so hard she couldn’t even see where she was going. In her panic, she stumbled over a knot of grass growing in a crack in the sidewalk and fell. She felt the skin on both knees tear, and for several minutes she sat there crying and watching her knees bleed and hoping that she’d bleed to death and never have to talk in front of people ever again.


She opened her eyes again and looked over at Allie’s bed. Empty. Allie always slept with Mandy on nights when Lisbeth was sick; it had become kind of a ritual. Alone with her agony, Lisbeth curled up tight and cried spiritless tears.


Day after day she lay in bed. Sometimes she’d have a little soup or a few sips of water, but mostly she just wanted to sleep. When she showed no improvement after a week, Mom said she was taking her to the doctor. “It’s probably mono,” she told her girls. “I had it years ago. It started out like the flu, and I was tired all the time.”


But Mom’s voice was shaking when she reported back that night, “The doctor did a lot of tests, looked her all over, and took some blood. He’ll call as soon as he knows something.”


Lisbeth smiled at her sisters. She didn’t mention the look on Dr. Kenney’s face as he tried to speak calmly; the way he glanced at the nurse as he said he’d be in touch. “Try not to worry,” he’d said, And that was when Lisbeth knew the news would be bad.

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