• robinstratton23

2. In Love With Spring: My Novel Online

Updated: Aug 24

The day after Christmas a moving van pulled up to the house next door. It’s about time, Jules thought as she peered out the window. The Hendersons had retired to Florida eight months ago, and the enormous Victorian that dwarfed the Aprils' modest three-bedroom ranch had been vacant ever since. As Jules watched, men stomped up and down the ramp, unloading furniture and boxes. Then she saw a limousine pull up and deposit a slender, fair-haired boy at the gate.
“Too young for me.” Mandy’s voice startled Jules. “But check out the buns on those moving men!”
Jules moved so that Mandy could join her on the couch. “Man, a limo! They must be loaded!”
“Must be, to be able to afford a place like that.”
Together they spied, noses pressed against the window, breath fogging the glass. Their eyes followed the boy as he made his way up the walk and in the front door.
“Think I’ll go over and introduce myself,” Jules said. “Welcome him to the neighborhood.”
“Find out if he has any older brothers.”
Jules rolled her eyes as she pulled on her coat. “Do you ever think about anything besides boys?”
Mandy grinned. “Nope.”
His name was Simon Lawrence, and Jules was surprised to discover that he was fifteen, same age as her. She had assumed he was younger–his light brown hair looked soft as a baby’s, and his chest was flat and narrow. A pimple next to his nose looked ready to burst. But she liked his eyes, which were milky blue. Without waiting for an invitation, she took off her coat.
“Come on,” he said, “I’ll show you around.”
She followed him through the huge rooms, nodding as he said, “This’ll be the living room, this’ll be the den, this’ll be the office.”
“You have a big family?”
“Just me and my grandfather.”
“Oh.” Jules felt awkward. “Your parents... ?”
“Haven’t seen them in years. They used to fight a lot. Then my dad left, and my mom didn’t want to take care of me, so she dumped me off at my grandfather’s house. She said she’d come back, but she never did.”
Jules felt her eyes go wide. “Shit!”
His laugh was apologetic. “Sorry. I never know if I should be honest about that or not. Should I have just said they were out of the country?”
“No, I... God, so sorry!”
“It’s okay. She wasn’t much of a mother. Left me with a sitter a lot when she went on dates. Sometimes she wouldn’t come home, and the sitter would have to leave, and I’d be alone until the morning.”
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry!” Jules tried to adjust her shocked expression to match his shrug (false bravado, or did he really not care?) but couldn’t.
“Anyway,” he said, “want some hot chocolate? I grabbed a couple of packets.”
They dug through some of the boxes marked Kitchen until they found a pan and some mugs. But they couldn’t find any silverware, so as Simon poured the hot water, Jules stirred the cocoa powder with his new house key. “Hey,” she said, “maybe I’ll have you in some of my classes.”
“No. Gramps… my grandfather… enrolled me in parochial school. He says I’ll get a better education.”
“You will,” she confirmed enviously. “I wish I could afford to go! The teachers at the high school are useless. All they do is make us memorize stuff we’ll never ever need to know. Like the elements! When am I ever going to need to know the atomic number for helium?”
“The atomic number for helium is two.”
“My tutor Tim said if you inhale helium your voice gets real high and you sound like a two-year old. So that’s how I remember it.”
“You go to parochial school and have a tutor?”
“Yeah. Gramps wants me to be a doctor or a lawyer.”
“Are you going to?”
“No way. I want to be a musician. A guitarist. As soon as I get settled here, I want to get a band together.”
“Oh, that’ll be cool.”
“Problem is, I have to do it secretly. Gramps would freak. We had a big fight about it and he thinks I’m going to give it up. But I’m not.”
“That’s good, you should never give up your dream. My mom says that following your bliss is the only path to happiness.”
“I wish Gramps thought that way.” Simon blew on his hot chocolate and then took a cautious sip. “Want to see upstairs?”
He led the way up a wide carpeted stairway. Jules, who used to visit the Hendersons, had always admired the carved wooden bannisters, worn smooth by a hundred years of hands. “Want me to ask around my school and see if any of the other kids want to be in a band?”
“Would you? Oh man, that would be great! I can tell Gramps that I joined a study group. He’ll be so proud.”
Jules couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have to lie to Mom about her writing, and felt sorry for him. “One of my sisters is a musician. I’ll bring her by, you can meet her.”
“What does she play?”
“Piano. She’s amazing. She only has to hear a song once, and she can play it.”
“Cool.” He led her down the hall. “This’ll be my room. It’s the farthest away from Gramps’ room. So I can practice without him hearing me.”
“Does he even know you have a guitar?”
“Oh yeah, he knows. He’s the one who gave it to me. Most expensive one in the store. Just doesn’t want me to play it.”
“Yeah. He’s old.”
Jules looked around at Simon’s new room, at the unmade bed, at all the boxes marked Simon’s Room, and at the guitar perched in a stand. “Can you play something for me?”
Suddenly shy, he looked away. “Well, um, I don’t usually play for anyone. I mean, I will. But just not yet. Okay?”
“Okay.” Affection for her lonely new neighbor made her smile. “I bet you’re great.”
He smiled back. “Yeah, well. I don’t know. Maybe. I practice a lot.”
She couldn’t think of a follow up, so she said, “Well, I should get going.”
“Okay.” They went down the stairs together, and headed for the front door. “So,” he said, “I guess I’ll be seeing you.”
“Yup.” Jules stepped out onto the porch, directly into the path of the movers who were struggling with an oversized sofa. “Oops, s’cuze me!” She giggled as she scurried out of their way.
“Gramps, this is Jules.” Simon’s introduction was barely audible.
Mr. Lawrence, sensing his unease, graciously resisted the impulse to reprimand him for mumbling, and his smile was kind as he turned to Jules. “I beg your pardon, your name is...?”
“My real name is Julia, but my little sister Lisbeth couldn’t pronounce the ‘ia.’ We’d go, Say Julia! and she’d go Jules! And we’d go Julia! and she’d go Jules! And we’d go ee-ya! Say ee-ya! and she’d go Ee-ya! And we’d go, Good, now say Jool-ee-ya, and she’d go Jules!
Simon laughed, but Mr Lamarck’s chuckle was more polite than genuine, because he disapproved of the predilection of his grandson’s generation to use the word “go” instead of “said.” At the same time, he was thinking fondly, Simon’s first crush! “Well, then, Jules. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Me, too,” Jules said. “I mean, it’s nice to meet you, too.” Simon’s stern-looking grandfather made her a little nervous, so she answered the questions grownups always asked—“Next door...Fifteen...Yes, three sisters...He doesn’t live with us anymore”—dutifully and with minimal elaboration. But he seemed genuinely interested, and when he learned that there was no male in the household, he promptly volunteered Simon’s services.
“If you ever need help or don’t feel safe. Please call him.”
“I’ll protect you,” Simon joked, flexing both thin arms like a super hero, and he and his grandfather laughed together.
The spontaneous display of warmth between them made Jules happy. “Thank you, Mr. Lawrence, I will.”
“Please call me Gramps. I didn’t love the name at first, but it’s what Simon has called me since he was a little boy.”
“Gramps,” Jules obliged.
“Alrighty then. I’ve got some work to do. You two kids run along,”
“Okay.” Together, they dashed up the stairs.
“The resemblance is amazing, isn’t it?” Jules asked right away.
“What resemblance?”
“Your gra... Gramps. He looks exactly like Thomas Mann! Don’t tell me you never noticed!”
“Thomas Mann, the writer. Death in Venice...The Magic Mountain...?”
“I don’t know who he is or what he looks like.”
“Oh, okay. Stuff like that, I sometimes don’t know if I’m the only one or if everyone knows it.”
“Yeah, okay, for the record I think not everyone knows what Thomas Mann looks like.”
“If you’ve got a set of encyclopedia I can show you... whoa!” Jules stopped when they got to Simon’s room and she saw music posters covering every wall. “Food of the Gods! My sisters and I love them!”
“I saw them at the Paradise last year.”
“Your grandfather let you go?”
“Are you kidding? I told him I was going to the library.”
“How’d you get in?”
“Lied about my age. And gave the guy at the door twenty bucks.”
“Wow. Lisbeth is going to be so jealous. She has all their records.”
“Is she the one who plays piano?”
“Yeah. She turned us on to all kinds of music that you don’t really hear on the radio much. Like King Crimson and ELP and Yes. Progressive rock. Prog rock, she calls it.”
“Maybe she can come over and we can jam! Gramps has a baby grand.”
“Uh...” Jules hesitated. Lisbeth’s shyness was legendary; around strangers she was nervous and fretful. Even school was torture for her. “Maybe.”
She shouldn’t have worried. As soon as Lisbeth and Simon met, they fell into an intense discussion, then Lisbeth sent him back to his house to get his guitar, and they played all the songs they both knew. She demanded details about the Food concert, and Jules overheard him say that Daniel Parker, the guitarist, had “shredded” the solos, that Joey Porter was “blistering” on the bass, and Christopher Day and Brian Drummel were “absolutely awesomely brilliant” on keyboards and drums.
Over the next several visits he moved a heavy sofa away from the wall so that Mom could paint, spent an entire afternoon arranging big rocks in the back yard to create a still life scene for Allie to sketch, helped repair a fence, and heartily partook of five freshly-baked brownies. Mom said, “It’s nice to have a man around the house again,” and patted his shoulder, embarrassing him.
Lissie, who’d baked the brownies, and Jules, who had up until that afternoon held the record for eating three, grinned. Mandy and Allie exchanged glances. Privately, they’d agreed that Simon was a perfect match for Jules; Mandy had added, a bit resentfully, Weird that she should be first to have a boyfriend, and Allie, who harbored a secret crush on her dreamy new neighbor, had sighed.
“Cut it out, he is not my boyfriend,” Jules snapped.
“Come on, we can tell you, like, like him,” Mandy said,
“I do not! He’s just a friend. This is gross.”
“Don’t call him gross,” Allie said, “He’s madly in love with you, Jules.”
“I didn’t say he was gross. I said this is gross.” Jules gestured at her sisters. “Simon and I are just friends, so do me a favor and don’t turn it into something it’s not.”
Ever the diplomat―and because she sensed that Jules was about to appeal to her for support―Lisbeth changed the subject. “Mom said that Simon brought me out of my shell. She said she’s never seen me like this with someone who wasn’t family.”
“Simon is like family,” Allie said. “Like the brother we never had.”
Like the son Dad never had, Jules thought. She wondered if it would have made a difference if Simon had really been their brother, if Dad would have stayed. “Shut up about this, you guys. I’m serious.”
Mr. Lawrence, two generations older than Simon and a survivor of the Great Depression, said he only wanted what was best for his grandson. “My boy,” he said over and over, “you can’t get rich from music.” Once Simon pointed out respectfully that he was already rich, but Mr. Lamarck just shook his head and reminded him that the money hadn’t come from music, it had been the result of good, solid investments.
One such investment had been a successful machine shop in Boston. The machine shop’s head of production was Robert Jenkins, and his son Tim, had recently been employed as Simon’s tutor.
At twenty-three, Tim was pursuing his M.A. in education. Each afternoon he attended lectures delivered by erudite professors who were experts on which methods were most effective, but on the two evenings a week he was with Simon, he shamelessly applied his own techniques. When a lesson in biology led to Simon’s red-faced confession about waking up with wet underwear, Tim patiently explained the nature of nocturnal emissions. When Simon’s classmate Albert bragged about his sexual exploits, Simon hooted appreciatively with the rest of the boys, then went home and called Tim to get clarification of some of the terms. And when Simon complained that all his friends played catch in the backyard with their fathers, Tim showed up the next day with two mitts and a ball.
“Look,” Tim said, “I respect your passion and your dedication to music. But you need to supplement your talent with a rock-solid business sense.”
“My manager will take care of that.” Simon loved the sound of the ball landing smak in his mitt and the strain of his shoulder as he sent the ball sailing back to Tim.
“Or he’ll rob you blind. Remember Jim Croce?”
“Yup.” Smak.
“Used to hear his songs on the radio all the time, right? And was on TV?”
“Yup.” Smak.
“Should have been a millionaire, right?”
“Yeah, he was on Midnight Special a few times.”
“Well he didn’t know a thing about business. He trusted these guys–friends of his who were record producers−to handle his money, and they cheated him. He was always broke. It’s why he went on the road that last time; he was ready to quit touring, but he had to pay bills. When he died, his wife was left with nothing.”
“Wow.” Simon was only eight when he’d heard the news of the plane crash, but remembered it perfectly, having taught himself the chords to “I Got a Name” a few weeks earlier.
“Happens all the time,” Tim went on. “You see these stars on TV and you think they got it made, and meanwhile they’re one step away from the poorhouse. You have to be informed, Simon. It’s only smart.”
Simon knew better than to argue. “Okay. Hey, I’ve been playing that Coltrane record you lent me. Blew my mind!”
“I knew you’d like it! I brought you something else...”
When Gramps came home from work that evening, he was surprised to hear Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Hurrying up the stairs, he went to Simon’s room, and stood in the doorway, unnoticed; his grandson was sitting on the bed, eyes shut, his head nodding to the beat.
Not for the first time, Gramps sent out a prayer of gratitude for this child, this one vestige of his family. Not that he would ever forgive his daughter, no, not ever. But oh, he was so thankful for Simon. “This is one of my favorites,” he said.
Simon opened his eyes, and grinned. “Yeah, it’s fantastic!”
“I saw the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform it live in 1930. I was 10. Serge Koussevitzky was the conductor. They made it into a record.”
“Wow, that must have really been something! This is the first time I’ve heard the classical version.”
“The classical version?” Gramps repeated.
“Yeah. Come on in, I’ll play something for you.”
Gramps went into the room, sat in the room’s only chair, and waited while Simon dug through his records.
“This is going to blow your mind, Gramps,” Simon announced when he found what he was looking for. A moment later, Gramps heard a voice say “Wuh gonna give ya Pictures at an Exhibition,” applause, and instead of horns and strings, there was a thin church organ intro. From there the piece morphed into a farrago of drums, bass, and guitar.
“This is Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s version,” Simon explained. “Check it out.”
As Gramps listened, he had to admit he found the vocals pleasant—“Of course the real version doesn’t have lyrics”— but wasn’t impressed with the synthesizer, which he called “untraditional.”
But how wonderful to be sitting in Simon’s room, talking about music. It was something they’d never done before.
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© 2019 by Robin Stratton