© 2019 by Robin Stratton
  • robinstratton23

9. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Dec 8, 2019


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 eyeing him speculatively; appraising him like a purchase she was going to make. She’d 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. She gleaned that he had no close friends at school, took an advanced mathematics class, and could sometimes be found in the teachers’ lounge chatting with Mrs. Spaulding, the science teacher. It was definitely time to approach him.
“You do all the talking,” Eddie urged. “He gives me the creeps. There’s something strange about him. I’m not even sure I want to be in a band with him.”
“But he’s good, isn’t he?” Simon asked. They were in his bedroom not practicing because his 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, he’s great, but…”
“Well we’re not asking for St. Francis,” Jules said. “If he’s great, we want him.”
Simon stopped strumming and looked at her, wondering, not for the first time, if she had a crush on Kevin. She was always defending him. Simon hated the thought of her liking anyone but him. Not that they were dating or anything. But it was understood that when the time was right, they’d be boyfriend and girlfriend. If Kevin didn’t get in the way. “He might not want to be in a band with us.”
“That’s true. Or he might already be in a band, if he’s as good as Eddie says.”
Shit, why don’t you just marry him? “Or he might think we’re not good enough. He looks like he could be a snob. You know how we hate snobs.”
“He isn’t a snob.”
A horn honked. Eddie cocked his head, listening. “I have to go. But let’s talk to him tomorrow.”
What’s he got that I don’t? Simon wondered as he and Jules peered through the window of the door, watching the students chat and pack up their instruments. Eddie slipped his violin into his case and hurried out to join them.
He knew the answer: Kevin was great looking; effortlessly cool, with long, uncombed hair, black tee shirt and tight black jeans. Seated at the drum set, he was practicing rolls and spinning the stick in his right hand like a majorette with a baton. Simon glanced at Jules. She can’t take her eyes off him.
Finally, Kevin shoved his sticks into his back pocket and headed for the door.
“I’m not saying anything,” Eddie reminded them.
Jules didn’t respond; she wouldn’t have let him be the spokesperson anyway. As soon as Kevin came close, she stepped into his path. “Hey, Kevin.”
He nodded a greeting. He was tall; probably six feet.
“I’m Jules.”
“I know. You’ve been following me for weeks. What’s up?”
Jules was startled. “Was I that obvious?”
“Loitering outside the boys’ bathroom?”
She laughed. “Just that one time.”
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.”
It was Kevin’s turn to be surprised. In silence, he appraised Eddie and Simon. He was impressed with Eddie; great on the strings. As for Simon—thin kid, looked shy. But you never know. Brian May, the guitarist for Queen, man, his arms were thin, too. “What kind of music do you guys play?”
Jules nudged Simon, who listed off several bands they liked. Kevin nodded, then his eyes lit up at the mention of Food of the Gods.
“Okay,” he said. “I just left my last band. They weren’t dedicated enough. They had other shit—girlfriends, jobs. 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.”
“That’s not enough.”
“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.
Kevin turned his attention to her. When he’d first noticed her, he assumed she had a crush on him. But there’s been nothing flirty about the way she looked at him. She was just observing him, like he was the subject of an experiment. He started watching her back, and became aware that she had a reputation for being bright and unconventional. The favorite of most of her teachers, not because she was a brownnoser, but because she loved to learn; she challenged their tired-out old minds enough to make them exert a little energy. Right now she was wearing a red tee shirt that said Imitation is suicide.
“What night do you practice? Give me the address and I’ll stop by.”
“Wednesday,” Simon answered, cautiously relieved, but knew it wasn’t a done deal yet.
Kevin listened to directions to Simon’s grandfather’s house, and then nodded. “Okay. Maybe I’ll see you.” With a grin, he gave Eddie a little shove. “If you’re half as good as this guy here, we just might have something.” With a final, friendly inclination of his head, 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.”
Simon didn’t respond. Fifteen minutes later, sitting sullenly in the back seat of Eddie’s mother’s station wagon, he listened to Jules and Eddie talk about what a great guy Kevin was. The thought of losing Jules to some stupid, conceited drummer pissed him off. He tried to imagine winning her back, maybe having to fight for her. Kevin towered over him by five or six inches. A fist fight would be a joke. I’ll have to get her back on charm alone, he thought. Shit.
Simon and Eddie were setting up in Gramps’ den when they heard a knock on the door. Jules, stretched out on the couch with a novel, sat up. “Could that be Kevin?”
“I knew it! I knew he’d come!” Eddie said.
“Jules, will you let him in?”
She got up, disappeared, and returned a moment later with him. He’d brought his drum set, but didn’t seem excited about the den. He said he was used to having a full basement to play in; nevertheless, he set up, and the three of them fell into a jam that grooved enough to distract Jules from her book.
During a short break Simon explained, “Gramps 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.”
Another point in his favor, Simon thought sourly. “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 on his violin perfectly, Simon and Kevin both started to laugh. Kevin stopped playing and held up his hand. “Okay, that was 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 was picturing how much better she would look with a tan, despite the cancer risk; truthfully, she was more concerned about aging her skin prematurely. She was also hoping the sun would lighten her hair. Why did Allie get to be the only blonde?
Jules, in an unfashionable navy blue one-piece that was so sturdy that 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’d started rewriting it a couple of weeks after Allie had fed the original version into the jaws of Dad’s shredder, and lots of passages had come back to her, especially the ones she’d sweated over. But most had to be reconstructed, and she had to admit that the new version was superior: 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 probable dispersion of the April girls: Mandy would be out job hunting and meeting 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. He 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. There was something vulnerable about her thin, undeveloped body. He could see the outline of her ribs through her lime green suit. She should put on some weight. Jules said there isn’t a chance she’ll join the band… but maybe we can talk her into it.
His erection settled down and he concluded his inventory with Allie. Simon 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, even when she smiled. With difficulty, he held in a sigh. He knew she was just a kid, but sometimes he wondered what it would be like to kiss her. He once mentioned her lips to Tim, his tutor, 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 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!” as if awaiting an invitation to join them.
They jumped at the sound of his voice, and all four sat up.
“Simon! Come on over!”
“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. “I have a job interview every day this week.”
“I can’t believe you’re not going back to school,” Jules said. “It’s so weird.”
“I know. It feels weird to me, too.”
“You must feel so old.”
Mandy smiled. “I do.”
“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 sighed.
“And no more tutor for me!” Simon announced.
“What? What are you talking about? What about Tim?” 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.” He 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 26. You’ll be a famous writer,” Lisbeth predicted.
“Simon will be a famous musician and Allie will be in Paris creating art that is trés magnifique. What about you, Lisbeth?”
Everyone looked at her, and it occurred to them all at the same time: Lisbeth never seemed to think about the future. She never said, Someday I’m going to… or I can’t wait until I’m old enough to… the way most kids did.
“I don’t know,” she faltered under everyone’s steady, suddenly-concerned gaze. “I’ll think of something.” When the answer didn’t seem to satisfy them, she added, “I don’t really care what I do. I mean, it doesn’t really matter as long as I have you guys and Mom and Dad. And as long as nothing terrible happens to any of us.”
Jules smiled gently, reached over, and patted her arm. “Nothing terrible is going to happen.”
Not again! Lisbeth thought. She swallowed, and sure enough, her throat was scratchy. Another cold? It’s summer! Who catches a cold in the summer? 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.
She made it through the rest of the morning, and then headed home.
Mandy, seated at the kitchen table looking through the want ads greeted her with a big smile; then her expression changed to concern. “Are you okay?”
“Sore throat. I’m going to bed.”
“What about lunch before you…”
“No, I’m not hungry.” Lisbeth disappeared down the hall.
“Feel better!” Mandy called after her.
Allie waited until they heard the bedroom door shut, then said, “Another cold!”
Mandy went back to the want ads. “I guess out of four kids, one of them is bound to be sick a lot.”
Jules, who never needed more than five or six hours of sleep a night and had scarcely known a menstrual cramp in her life, considered Mandy’s prognosis with a trace of guilt. Had she drained all Mom’s healthy cells so that when Lissie was conceived a year and a half later all that remained was a feeble immune system? “Maybe I should sit with her.”
But Mandy said, “No, let her sleep. That’s what she needs most.”
When Mom went in to wake Lisbeth for dinner, she found her shivering with chills, and hot with a fever of 102. “Poor baby. Let me get you some aspirin.” She stroked Lisbeth’s forehead.
“I took some already.” Lisbeth pressed her face against the gentle hand. Clenching her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering, she trembled from head to toe. Her fists, grasping the sheets, used up the last of her strength.
“I wish you’d have something to eat… 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 of a reason. 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. She was seven. The other kids were giggling at her, and Miss Bellingham 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 Bellingham 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 Bellingham 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. Maybe I’ll just bleed to death and then I’ll never have to talk in front of people 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.”
“Probably mono,” Jules repeated. Please please please let it just be mono.
“The doctor did a lot of tests, looked her all over, and took some blood,” Mom told them in a shaky voice that evening when she got home. “He said he’ll call as soon as he knows something.” She didn’t mention the look on the doctor’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 quietly while Lisbeth was in the room getting dressed, and that was when Mom knew the news would be bad.
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