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Definitely, Maybe in Love: Part 2 – Chapter 9


Winter

“I had never loved anyone before…so I naturally thought that it was not in my nature to love. But it has always seemed to me that it must be heavenly to be loved blindly, passionately, wholly… And I would have allowed myself to be worshipped, and given infinite tenderness in return.”

From The Scarlet Pimpernel


As I came down the creaky attic stair from my bedroom, I ran into Anabel leaving Julia’s room.

“Oh, hey Springer,” she said, trying to display an innocent expression, which made me instantly suspicious.

“What were you doing in there?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said, glancing into Julia’s room. “Just having a chat. Girl stuff. Have a nice Thanksgiving!” She waved her fingers and walked away. Little chats with Anabel usually included requests to borrow a pair of shoes you’d never see again, or unsolicited, unorthodox dating advice. When it came to Julia, neither was a good idea.

I rounded the corner and entered her room.

“Ready to go?” Julia asked, smiling brightly.

“Almost,” I replied, giving her a quick assessment. I’d have to ask her later what she and Anabel were discussing.

Two suitcases were open on the foot of her bed. The rest of the mattress was covered with separated stacks of clothes laid out in uniformed organization. Julia was singing to herself, methodically folding a white sweater. “You’re packed, right?” she asked.

I groaned as an answer, adjusting one ear bud as some very appropriate angry chick rock lulled in my ear.

With midterm exams over, we were now well into the meat of the winter quarter. Papers, research projects, advisory teams. Madness ahead. I’d dropped my three jobs to concentrate on school. Now was the time to focus, the big push to the end.

It was the first time I’d stepped foot in Julia’s bedroom in weeks. Despite the various piles of clothing, it was immaculate. Even with her mind intertwined with her heart, she was still as orderly as ever. I did notice that the calendar on her pink wall had not yet been turned from October to November, even though we were more than half-way through the month.

“Planning on staying forever?” I asked, eyeing the enormous pile of clothes in her suitcase.

“I wish.” She smiled wistfully.

I scooted over a pair of red jeans so I could sit. “This is going to be the longest seven days in the history of the world,” I moaned.

“So dramatic,” Julia replied. “You’ll be fine.”

“With you and Dart making kissing faces to each other over the turkey and cornbread stuffing, not to mention the other inhabitant of that house.”

Julia lifted her eyebrows at me. She’d been packing all morning. Anabel was heading out any minute, spending the week with her family. I seldom left for holidays anymore. My brothers were also staying away at school, and last I heard, Mom was going on a nature retreat, probably not even realizing it was Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to spend another holiday in my tiny hometown, didn’t need another reminder of what my life might be like if I didn’t succeed in college, if I didn’t get out and make something of myself in the world. I loved my mother, but I did not want to end up like her.

I should have gone on vacation with Mel, who was driving up to her grandparents’ house in Washington. She’d invited me, but I turned her down.

Julia actually wanted to stay in town for Thanksgiving. Because Dart was. So the two of us had the whole house to ourselves.

That was, until we learned that one of our landlord’s other rentals had termites, so all of his properties were being fumigated over the long break. The exterminator was arriving early tomorrow. Those of us who were remaining in town were forced to stay elsewhere while the toxic spray did its thing.

Julia was singing again, stowing her makeup bag in the small outside pocket of her second suitcase.

“What’s that there?” I asked when my eye caught a piece of black lace tucked in a corner.

“Oh.” Julia covered it with a sweatshirt. “It’s nothing,” she said, looking down, moving more clothes around. “Just something from Anabel.”

“Is it lingerie?”

“No. Well, sort of.” She tucked some hair behind an ear. “It’s nothing, really. I probably won’t ever wear it.”

She seemed so embarrassed, I almost laughed. “Bunny, it’s none of my business what you wear for your boyfriend; just be careful about what Anabel gives you, whether it’s a push-up bra or relationship advice.”

“I will. And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“You really like Alex,” she said. “Or should I ask that? Because it’s tough to tell with you.”

I played with the cuff of my sleeve. “What’s not to like?”

She twisted her lips but didn’t speak for a moment. “Now it’s my turn to say be careful to you,” she finally said.

“Your concern is duly noted.”

In the purely conventional respect, Alex and I weren’t dating, because dating involved actually going out to places, maybe sharing a meal. The moments Alex and I spent together always began the same way our first date had. No more, no less. A controlled release of pheromones and hormones was a nice way to break up a tedious day of studying. Alex was good for that. Sometimes we talked a bit about his past with Henry Knightly, although I wasn’t very comfortable with the topic, so I usually cut him off. And I never breathed a word to anyone else about what he’d told me the night of our first date.

“We don’t know anything about him,” Julia said, hauling suitcase number one toward the door.

“You don’t,” I said, “but I do.”

“I asked Dart about it a few weeks ago, because it’s obvious Alex and Henry have a history.”

I glanced at her. She was fiddling with the zipper on her suitcase.

“He knows they went to high school together and had a falling out. Dart said Henry doesn’t like to talk about it.”

“Of course he doesn’t,” I agreed, bending my knees to sit cross-legged.

Julia frowned.

Very easily, I could have put her mind at ease. Alex and I had a good run, but the rush of dopamine and norepinephrine stimulating my senses had rapidly decreased. I was crazy-busy, and I was bored. It took a lot to hold my interest, no matter how good the kissing.

“Do you trust Alex over Henry?” Julia asked hesitantly.

“I do.”

“Even after all his help with your thesis?”

“Just because he’s been spending a few nights a week lecturing me on how wrong I am doesn’t mean he isn’t an even bigger ass to other people. In fact, it probably proves he is. Who knows how big a jerk he is to his actual friends.”

She looked down, running her fingers over her lap. “We’ve known each other for more than two years,” she began, eyes lowered. “You didn’t used to be so closed-minded.”

“The guy called me hypocritical the other day because I ate an egg.” I rolled my eyes. “I’m an Environmental Vegetarian, not Gandhi. And last week, he told me I’m a haughty elitist. How can I be an elitist if I don’t have any money?”

“Your attitude, maybe?”

I sat back. “Meaning?”

From her bent expression, I could tell she was sorry she’d said the words in the first place. Her fingers nervously twirled at the ends of her hair, giving me the same worried, detached look Mel had that night at the street party.

“Well…” Julia pressed her lips together. “You can come on a little strong.”

“Me?” I asked, trying not to sound shrieky. “It’s his fault. He’s so political about everything.”

She stared at me for a moment then burst out laughing. “Hello black pot, have you met the black kettle?” She swatted my knee and stood. “All right, Springer, time to go.”

“No, bunny, please,” I whined. “Let’s take out a loan and stay at a hotel.”

“Funny,” she said. “Before we go, I need you to do me a big favor.”

“Anything,” I said, kicking my feet off the bed.

“Say two nice things about Henry.”

“Anything but that.”

“That way, during the week if you happen to feel, umm, incensed, you can bring those to mind.” She fingered her hair into a ponytail. “Just two things. You can even make them physical. That’s easy. Hello, you’re not blind—”

“Fine,” I cut her off. “He’s a…a good shaver.”

Julia rolled her eyes.

“And his face is very symmetrical.”

“Hot,” she said sarcastically, but I’d apparently pacified her enough for the moment. “Grab your bags. It’s time.”


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