Lola and the Boy Next Door
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“Like I said. Too old.”
“Age doesn’t matter.”
He snorts. “Yeah, maybe when you’re middle-aged and—”
“Golfing,” Anna helpfully supplies, without looking up from her notebook.
“Paying the mortgage,” he says.
“Shopping for minivans.”
“With side air bags.”
“And extra cup holders!”
I ignore their laughter. “You’ve never even met him.”
“Because he never comes in here. He drops you off at the curb,” St. Clair says.
I throw up my hands, which I’ve been mehndi-ing with a Bic pen. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to park in this city?”
“I’m just saying that if it were Anna, I’d want to meet her coworkers. See where she’s spending her time.”
I stare at him, hard. “Obviously.”
“Obviously.” He grins.
I scowl back. “Get a job.”
“Perhaps I will.”
Anna finally looks up. “I’ll believe that when I see it.” But she’s smiling at him. She twirls the glass banana on her necklace. “Oh, hey.Your mom called. She wanted to know if we’re still on for dinner tomorrow—”
And they’re off in their own world again. As if they don’t see each other enough as it is. He stays in her dorm on weekdays, and she stays in his on weekends. Though I do admit that their trade-off is appealing. I hope Max and I share something like it someday. Actually, I hope Max and I share one place someday—
“Oy !” St. Clair is talking to me again. “I met your friend today.”
“Lindsey?” I sit up straighter.
“No, your old neighbor. Cricket.”
The ornamental ceiling tilts and bends. “And how do you know that Cricket Bell was my neighbor?” My question is strangled.
St. Clair shrugs. “He told me.”
I stare at him. And?
“He lives on my floor in my dorm. We were talking in the hall, and I mentioned that I was on my way to meet Anna, and where she works—”
His girlfriend beams, and I’m struck by a peculiar twinge of jealousy. Does Max tell people about me?
“—and he said he knew someone who worked here, too. You.”
One week, and already I can’t escape him. It’s just my luck that Cricket would live beside my only Berkeley acquaintance. And how does he know where I work? Did I mention the theater? No. I’m positive that I didn’t. He must have asked Andy after I left.
“He asked about you,” St. Clair continues. “Nice bloke.”
“Huh,” I finally manage.
“There’s a story behind that huh,” Anna says.
“There’s no story,” I say. “There is definitely NOT a story.”
Anna pauses in consideration before turning toward St. Clair. “Would you mind making a coffee run?”
He raises an eyebrow. After a moment, he says, “Ah. Of course.” He swoops in for a kiss goodbye, and then she watches his backside leave before turning to me with a mischievous smile.
I huff. “You’ll just tell him later, when you guys are alone.”
Her smile widens. “Yep.”
“Then no way.”
“Dude.” Anna slides into the seat beside me. “You’re dying to spill it.”
She’s right. I spill it.
When I was five years old, Cricket Bell built an elevator. It was a marvelous invention made from white string and Tonka truck wheels and a child-size shoe box, and because of it, my Barbies traveled from the first floor of their dollhouse to the second without ever having to walk on their abnormally slanted feet.
The house was built in my bookcase, and I’d desired an elevator for as long as I could remember. The official Barbie Dream House had one made of plastic, but as often as I begged my parents, they wouldn’t budge. No Dream House. Too expensive.
So Cricket took it upon himself to make one for me. And while Calliope and I decorated my bookcase with lamp shades made from toothpaste caps and Persian rugs made from carpet samples, Cricket created a working elevator. Pulleys and levers and gears come to him as naturally as breathing.
The elevator had completed its first run. Pet Doctor Barbie was enjoying the second floor and Calliope was pulling down the elevator to fetch Skipper, when I stood on my tiptoes, puckered my lips, and planted one on her very surprised brother.
Cricket Bell kissed me back.
He tasted like the warm cookies that Andy had brought us. His lips were dusted with blue sugar crystals. And when we parted, he staggered.
But our romance was as quick as our kiss. Calliope proclaimed us “grody” and flounced back to their house, dragging Cricket behind her. And I decided she was right. Because Calliope was the kind of girl you wanted to impress, which meant that she was always right. So I decided that boys were gross, and I would never date one.
Certainly not her brother.
Not long after the elevator incident, Calliope decided that I was grody, too, and my friendship with the twins ended. I imagine Cricket complied with the arrangement in the easy way of anyone under the sway of someone with a stronger personality.
For several years, we didn’t talk. Contact was limited to hearing their car doors slam and glimpsing them through windows. Calliope had always been a talented gymnast, but the day she switched to figure skating, she burst into a different league altogether. Her parents bragged to mine about potential, and her life turned into one long practice session. And Cricket, too young to stay at home without a parent, went with her.
On the rare occasions that he was at home, he busied himself inside his bedroom, building peculiar contraptions that flew and chimed and buzzed. Sometimes he’d test one in the small space between our houses. I’d hear an explosion that would bring me racing to my window. And then, but only then, would we exchange friendly, secretive smiles.
When I was twelve, the Bell family moved away for two years. Training for Calliope. And when they came back, the twins were different. Older.
Calliope had blossomed into the beauty our neighborhood had expected. Confidence radiated from every pore, every squaring of her shoulders. I was awed. Too intimidated to talk to her, but I chatted occasionally with Cricket. He wasn’t beautiful like his sister. Where the twins’ matching slenderness made Calliope look ballet-esque, Cricket looked gawky. And he had acne and the peculiar habits of someone unused to socializing. He talked too fast, too much. But I enjoyed his company, and he appeared to enjoy mine. We were on the verge of actual friendship when the Bells moved again.