Lola and the Boy Next Door
Page 11

 Stephanie Perkins

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“I would love a slice.” And he springs ahead of Andy, who follows him inside.
The porch is silent. I turn to Lindsey. “What just happened?”
“Your father invited the former love of your life in for pie.”
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”
We’re quiet for a moment.
“There’s still time for an excuse,” she says. “We don’t have to go in there.”
I sigh. “No, we really do.”
“Good. Because that guy demands observation.” And she marches inside.
I take another look at the paint splotch and find that it’s dried. Crap. I spray the last side of my shoes, move the project where it won’t get tripped on, and head inside for whatever torture awaits me. They’re standing around one of the islands in our kitchen. We have an unusually large kitchen for the city, because my parents removed the dining room to add space for Andy’s business. Everyone already has a plate of pie and a glass of milk.
“Unbelievable.” Cricket wipes the crumbs from his lips with his long fingers. “I would have never thought to put kiwi in a pie.”
Andy spots me hovering in the doorway. “Better hurry before this one eats it all.” He nods toward his guest. Outwardly, my dad is collected, but I can tell that inside he’s gloaty beyond belief. How quickly one’s allegiance changes under the influence of a compliment. I smile as if none of this is a big deal. But I’m freaking out. Cricket Bell. In my kitchen. Eating kiwi pie. And then I take the empty space beside him, and I’m stunned again by his extraordinary height. He towers over me.
Andy points his fork at the other half of the green pie. “Have the rest, Cricket.”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t.” But his brightened eyes suggest otherwise.
“I insist.” My dad nudges the dish toward him. “Nathan’s always complaining that I’m trying to make him fat, so it’ll be better if it’s gone before he comes home.”
Cricket turns to me with his entire body—head, shoulders, chest, arms, legs. There are no half gestures with Cricket Bell. “Another slice?”
I motion toward the piece in front of me, which I haven’t even started.
“Lindsey?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “I’m not exactly pie-deprived, visiting here so often.”
Why is he here? Isn’t there some campus party he should be at? The more I think about it, the more incensed I become. How dare he show up and expect me to be friendly? People can’t just do that.
“How’s your family?” Andy asks.
Cricket swallows. “They’re good. My parents are the same. Dad’s a little too exhausted, Mom’s a little too enthusiastic. But they’re good. And Cal is busy training, of course. It’s a big year with the Olympics coming up. And Aleck is married now.”
“Is he still composing?” Andy asks. Alexander, or Aleck as dictated by the family nickname, is the twins’ older brother. He was already in high school when Calliope started training, so he escaped most of the family drama. I never knew him well, but I do vividly recall the complicated piano concertos that used to glide through our walls. All three Bells could be considered prodigies in their fields.
“And teaching,” Cricket confirms. “And he had his first child last year.”
“Boy or girl?” Lindsey asks.
“A girl. Abigail.”
“Uncle . . . Cricket,” I say.
Lindsey and Andy both let out an uncontrolled snort, but Andy instantly looks horrified for doing it. He glares at me. “Lola.”
“No, it’s okay,” Cricket says. “It’s completely ridiculous.”
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“No, please. Don’t be.” But there’s a catch in his voice, and he says it so quickly that I look at him in surprise. For the briefest moment, our eyes lock. There’s a flash of pain, and he turns away. He hasn’t forgotten.
Cricket Bell remembers everything.
My face burns. Without thinking, I push away my plate. “I need to . . . get ready for work.”
“Come on.” Lindsey grabs my hand. “You’ll be late.”
Andy glances at the Frida Kahlo wall calendar where I post my schedule. He frowns toward Frida’s unibrow. “You didn’t write it down.”
Lindsey is already pulling me upstairs. “I’m covering for someone!” I say.
“Am I supposed to pick you up?” he hollers.
I lean over the banister and look into the kitchen. Cricket is staring at me, parted mouth and furrowed brow. His difficult equation face. As if I’m the problem, not him. I rip away my gaze. “Yeah, the usual time. Thanks, Dad.”
Lindsey and I run the rest of the way into my bedroom. She locks my door. “What’ll you do?” Her voice is low and calm.
“About Cricket?”
She reaches underneath my bed and pulls out the polyester vest. “No. Work.”
I search for the remaining pieces of my uniform, trying not to cry. “I’ll go to Max’s. He can drive me to work before Andy gets there.”
“Okay.” She nods. “That’s a good plan.”
It’s the night before school starts, and I’m working for real this time. Anna and I—and her boyfriend, of course—are inside the box office. The main lobby of our theater is enormous. Eight box-office registers underneath a twenty-five-foot ceiling of carved geometric crosses and stars. Giant white pillars and dark wooden trim add to the historic opulence and mark the building as not originally a chain movie theater. Its first incarnation was a swanky hotel, the second a ritzy automobile showroom.
It’s another slow evening. Anna is writing in a battered, left-handed notebook while St. Clair and I argue across the full length of the box office. She just got another part-time job, unpaid, writing movie reviews for her university’s newspaper. Since she’s a freshman, they’re only giving her the crappy movies. But she doesn’t mind. “It’s fun to write a review if you hate the movie,” she told me earlier. “It’s easy to talk about things we hate, but sometimes it’s hard to explain exactly why we like something.”
“I know you like him,” St. Clair says to me, leaning back in his chair. “But he’s still far too old for you.”