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Definitely, Maybe in Love: Part 3 – Chapter 18


Spring

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions…but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

From To Kill a Mockingbird


“Spring. A word?”

I stood in place, my backpack hanging off one shoulder. “Shh”—I choked on my own tongue—“Sure, Professor Masen.” I smiled as brightly as possible while walking with dread toward the front of the emptying classroom.

He sat at his desk, doing the chin rub. “We’re three months into the new semester. You’ve canceled our last two appointments and missed a deadline.”

“Oh, uh, I know. I’m…” I was about to say I was going through a personal crisis, but how lame was that? And I couldn’t very well tell him the truth—that I’d lost interest in writing my thesis. Not something you should admit to your advisor.

Despite the skipped appointments and deadlines, I was hoping Masen hadn’t noticed. But evidently, I wasn’t that lucky.

For the past few months, I’d been having trouble concentrating. Things weren’t coming as easily as they should, and every single one of my professors had it in for me—I could tell. I didn’t know how I’d managed to get so far behind, which subsequently added to the stress. One minute I was in full-blown panic mode, and the next, I couldn’t be more indifferent. Either way, I was not being productive.

Masen cleared his throat. “You’ve been…what?” he asked, attempting to finish my unfinished sentence.

“I’ve been…really busy in my other classes,” I fudged. “Anthropology is kicking my ass.”

He read something on his computer screen that I couldn’t see. “You’re taking a really full load again this semester, but it isn’t too late to drop a class.”

“Drop a…”

“You only need fifteen units to keep your scholarships.”

“I can’t drop a class,” I blurted, indignant at the very suggestion.

My professor gazed up at me and leaned back, his ancient chair squeaking. “Then I suggest you fix whatever is broken,” he said. “Time is running out.”

“I know, and I will,” I promised, even though I had no idea how to repair what was wrong with me. I couldn’t even name it. I was afraid if I fed my symptoms into WebMD, it would spit out that I had a broken heart.

I usually didn’t get car sick, but this particular stretch of highway on the way up to Washington was twisty and turny like a roller coaster. I half expected to look over and see Mel with her hands off the steering wheel like we were taking a corkscrew at Six Flags.

“Mel,” I said, my right hand holding onto the grip above the door while my left pressed against my churning stomach, “I swear to you, if we hit an on-coming truck and actually live to tell about it, I’ll run you over.”

She took a hand off the wheel to tilt her white sunglasses, but she didn’t slow down.

“Why are you in such a hurry? Spring break is a full seven days.”

“Thought you were in a rush to get out of dodge,” she said, her glasses perched on the tip of her nose. “If I may quote you.” She cleared her throat. “‘I will go anywhere, to the world’s end, with you, Mel.’ That was two days ago. Changed your mine already? How fickle.”

She let her foot off the gas and we slowed way down. The car behind us honked.

I glanced through the rear window. “I’d just like to arrive in one piece.” The car was now tailing us. It honked again as we continued to decelerate. “Mel, have you ever heard of road rage? It’ll be bad enough if we splat into a tree, but to get shot, too?”

“Overkill?”

“Ya think?”

Mel laughed and floored it, the tires of her Jetta squealing against the concrete.

She’d been inviting me up to her grandparents’ house for years. I’d always turned her down, due to papers and projects and protests. But this time, I was more than happy to take her up on it, even though picking up and leaving for a week when I should’ve been catching up on homework was not the most industrious of decisions. But I’d done it anyway.

I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. When I opened them again, a mile-marker sign whizzed by. We were somewhere in the middle of our journey. Three hundred more miles to Vancouver, Washington.

Yes, this little vacation was just what the doctor ordered, if that doctor was of the philosophy of running away from your problems. I needed space, I needed to clear my head, and I needed to get back on track. Somehow, somewhere, I’d fallen off course. When I’d made the big change the last time, I’d switched majors, braided my hair, and figuratively burned my bra. I had no idea how to deal now.

I swallowed down the pukey mass bubbling up my throat. “Are we there yet?” I whined.

“We’re stopping in a sec. I’m in desperate need of sustenance—more specifically, a candy bar.”

“What happened to the one you brought with you?”

Mel’s brow furrowed. She reached back to the floor behind her seat, pulled a plastic shopping bag forward, and sat it on her lap. She sifted through it, keeping one hand on the wheel.

“Huh, I could’ve sworn…” She lifted her sunglasses so she could see into the bag more clearly. “I had two, actually,” she mumbled, bemused. “There’re only wrappers now. Didn’t… Wasn’t… Ohhh.” She let out her breath, smiled in extreme relief then went back to looking glum.

I stared at her for a moment, absolutely befuddled, until I realized how Mel’s train of thought was just plain impossible to follow sometimes. “Uh, yeah, what’s going on over there?” I asked, tracing circles in the air around her face.

“I just realized I had one of my daze-outs.”

“Daze-outs?” I echoed, wondering if I should make her pull over so I could drive.

“Yes, I’ve recently raised a new theory about me and junk food.”

“Ahhh. I’m all ears.”

“It’s quite simple, really. Someone offers me chocolate cake or donuts or something, I kind of black out, then come to and I’m covered in crumbs and feel like I want to barf, and yet I have no recollection of eating anything. It’s the strangest thing. We’ve been on the road for four hours and I’ve already scarfed two candy bars, Spring. I don’t even know what kind they were, but they were good, I think. Like I said, I don’t remember.”

“You should write this up for The New England Journal of Medicine, get that publication you’ve been after.”

“Don’t make fun of me; I’m dead serious. Have you seen how much weight I’ve gained? Six pounds since summer.”

“No!” I gasped mockingly. Mel had a fabulous body. “Don’t feel too badly. I’ve gained four.”

“Really? You don’t show it.”

“I have my own theory about that.”

“Listening,” she said, accelerating to pass an RV.

“Well, you know that I’m a huge fan of the invention of the light bulb, yes? And no one loves the second gen iPad more than me.”

“Keep talking.”

“But I am convinced that the greatest invention of our time is the lowrise, dark denim, bootcut jean. Hides absolutely everything.”

“Oh, babe, you are so right. Cheers to that.” She held up a can of Diet Coke, toasting herself.

“Look, there’s a 7-11. I have an overwhelming craving for a Milky Way.”

In lieu of pulling over to a restaurant and getting a healthy meal like two normal people, we stocked up on junky snacks. My driver opted for three chocolate bars and a Big Gulp of Diet Coke with two shots of lime, while I limited myself to a six-pack of mini powdered donuts and a frosty glass bottle of cream soda.

“How’s Julia these days?” Mel asked. There was a glob of chocolate on the tip of her nose. “I haven’t seen her in weeks. Does she really wear Dart’s underwear around the house?”

“That’s disgusting. Where did you hear that?”

“People talk.”

“They shouldn’t.”

“Stupid minds will believe anything,” she said.

I took a long drink of soda, bubbles clogging up my throat. “To answer your question… Oops, ha-ha, that wasn’t me”—my words came slurring out between two carbonated belches—“I am not going to gossip about my roommate.”

Mel snickered through her chocolate-covered teeth.

“I mean, I love Julia, but sometimes…” I hiccupped, feeling slightly intoxicated from sugar. “Well, I will say it’s been a tough three months for all of us, and just leave it at that.”

“Oh, Spring, honey, that’s so sweet,” she cooed in sarcastic pity.

“What’s sweet?”

“You”—she pushed out her bottom lip—“thinking I’ll just ‘leave it at that.’”

I hiccupped.

“You’re in my car, babe,” she added. “You must pay the piper, and you know the toll. So Julia’s finally stopped crying all the time, true?” she asked, questioning me like I was her hostile witness.

I nodded, taking another swig from my long-neck bottle.

“She’s going to her classes and not flunking out yet?”

“Yet”—I held up one finger—“being the operative word here.” I tossed the last donut in my mouth and took my time chewing. “I’m sure the worst is over.”

Truth be told, life with Julia these days was no picnic. That once sparkling and cheerful liveliness had completely vanished from her countenance. The Julia we loved was crushed and hidden somewhere beneath the frail, dejected creature who spent most of her free time moping around the house, though not wearing some guy’s boxers.

At the beginning, and in some minute way, I shared in Julia’s grieving, but the more time that passed, the more I was convinced that everything had happened for the best.

After a few more innocuous tidbits were shared, I said, “I feel pukey.”

Mel grimaced. “So do I. But I have one more question.” She looked down at her lap covered in crumbs and wrappers. “Where am I? And what happened to all the candy bars I just bought?”

“That’s two questions.”

An hour or so later, I was pecking at my phone. Three e-mails from Julia, one short note from my lab partner, and an ad wanting to fix my erectile dysfunction. Okay…?

No other messages.

My heart sank like a rock, but the next second I was absolutely livid with myself. I hated when an aftershock snuck up on me like that. After three months, I’d hoped they had stopped.

Henry was gone, hadn’t said good-bye, and never contacted me again. I bit the inside of my cheek and stared out the window at the layers of green hills and pine trees. Even in my most cynical moments, it was impossible to deny how much that hurt. We’d been going somewhere. At least I thought we had been. And then it was like a rug was yanked from under me. Bits of my life went flying into the air and even after three months, I hadn’t been able to gather them up. Some, like school, I was slow to confront.

One night on campus, I could’ve sworn I’d seen him by the quad. By the time I’d done a double-take, he was gone. Or at least, the tall, dark-haired back that I’d seen was gone.

After that embarrassing display, I’d resigned myself that his moving was the best thing that could’ve happened. My reasoning was pragmatic: First, I was better off without him. Hadn’t his arrogance driven me insane? His mega-conservative opinions exasperated me beyond the pale? Yes.

Second, he’d taken up too much of my time, been too distracting at the end of the semester when I should have been studying for finals and not cooking up stupid questions to ask him just so we could meet to “research.” Okay, so maybe that wasn’t his fault. I gnawed my thumbnail.

And that car, those stupid suits. He wasn’t a lawyer yet, after all.

Yes, it was a good thing, a very good thing. I blinked, realizing that I’d been staring at my empty inbox.

I had another problem now. An almost daily reminder of Henry’s absence was Alex’s presence. We had a class in the same building at the same time, and there was no escaping him. I didn’t end up inviting him over the day we found out Dart and Henry had moved, but we did have that little chat later. My reasons why we couldn’t hang out like we used to sounded flimsy and vague, but he’d shrugged me off, protecting his pride, and said we’d always be friends.

Whatever.

After that, he was distant with me and pretty testy. I didn’t care, so long as he stayed away. Even though I still didn’t know what happened between him and Henry all those year ago, my gut told me who to trust.

As far as I knew, I was the only person Alex told about being expelled from Elliott Academy. But that changed in January. It was like, the second he knew Henry was gone, he couldn’t stop talking about how unfairly he’d been treated in high school. And by Presidents’ Day, there wasn’t a Cardinal within a five-mile radius who didn’t know the whole sordid account.

Alex’s story also began to include his foe’s younger sister, and what a ghastly character she apparently was. “A carbon copy of her brother, all right!” Alex told anyone who would listen.

Needless to say, Alex and I drifted apart. Well, he drifted while I swam madly in the other direction.

“So,” I said to Mel as I switched off my cell and set it on my backpack, “I finally get to meet Tyler.”

Mel turned to me from the oncoming freeway, face alight. “Ahh, Ty baby.” Her mouth split apart in an open smile, then she licked her lips. “He’s absolutely delicious.”

Here’s what I also knew: Tyler was her on-again/off-again boyfriend from years of summer vacationing at Grandma’s. He was attending college in Seattle but would also be in Vancouver for spring break. Mel warned me that she intended to spend a lot of time with him. I was fine with that. I’d brought stacks of homework and had grand intentions of hunkering down in one of the spare bedrooms of the Gibsons’ home that surveyed the lake. I had a lot of catching up to do.

“He’ll curl even your toes, Springer,” Mel added. “I swear to all that is holy and chocolate that you will faint dead away.”

Doubtful. She and I didn’t share the same taste in men, and her idea of toe-curling meant nothing more than a good body and straight teeth. Perhaps I’d grown discerning.

“The best thing about him,” Mel beamed, “is he’s dumb as a sack of hammers. Seriously, the boy gets his current events from Conan.”

“That’s the best thing about him?”

“It’s refreshing. After spending months surrounded by eggheads and bookworms—”

“Present company excluded?”

Mel held up her cell. “He’s texted twice since lunch. Oh, you haven’t forgotten about tomorrow night?”

I groaned aloud, wishing Mel had forgotten.

“We’ll have a good time, you’ll see.”

“Fabulous. Just what I don’t need this week, a freaking blind date.”

“It’s not exactly blind. Tyler knows him. It’s more of a…a…”

“Set up?”

“No, no.” She shook her head, probably not wanting to give me further reason to bow out. “Not a set up, I swear! In fact, Ty didn’t even know his cousin was in town this week. Not till last night. Well, actually.” She snickered affectionately. “Knowing Tyler, he’s probably known about it for weeks and forgot to tell me.”

That didn’t help. “This cousin person? You’re expecting me to converse with him for how many hours? Why do we have to go all the way to Portland for a basketball game? Can’t we just do a quick dinner? Didn’t you and Tyler already have plans for tomorrow night?”

After my fourth sentence, I realized how many questions in a row I’d just asked, so I shut up.

“These new plans are better,” Mel said. “I thought the Trail Blazers were your NBA team.”

I shrugged.

“It’s not even an hour in traffic down to The Rose Garden from Gram’s house. Ty’s cousin got us floor seat tickets, babe. On the floor.”

That was kind of cool, and Mel was right, I was a sucker for the Blazers. The one thing my father passed on to me. And I’d never been even close to the floor.

“They’re playing the Lakers,” Mel added. “You’re telling me you’re willing to skip that?” She gasped. “Oh, Spring, what if Leonardo Dicaprio is sitting courtside?”

I couldn’t help laughing. “If that’s the case, I promise I’ll give Tyler’s cousin a big, wet kiss.”


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