Lola and the Boy Next Door
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WHY WAS THIS SO HARD?
I took a chance and sat beside him. Cricket pulled up the video, and I scooted closer, under the guise of seeing it better. I couldn’t concentrate, but as the machine’s silver ball shot through tunnels, set off whistles, and zoomed across tracks, I laughed in delight anyway. I inched closer until I was in the dip between the cushions. I smelled the faintest twinge of his sweat, but it wasn’t bad. It was very far from bad. And then the side of my hand brushed the side of his, and my heart collapsed.
He was very still.
I cleared my throat. “Are you doing anything special for your birthday tomorrow?”
“No.” He moved his hand into his lap, flustered. “Nothing. I’m not doing anything.”
“Okay . . .” I stared at his hand.
“Actually, Calliope has some skating thing. So it’ll be another afternoon of bad rink food, skating vendors, and squealing girls.”
Was that an excuse to avoid me? Had I been wrong this whole time? I went home upset and called Lindsey. “No way,” she said. “He likes you.”
“You didn’t see him. He’s been acting so weird and cagey.”
But the next morning, I met up with Lindsey to find a present for him. I wasn’t ready to give up. I couldn’t give up. I knew he needed an obscurely sized wrench for a project, and I also knew he was having trouble finding it online. We spent the entire day hunting the city’s specialty shops, and as I walked home that night so proud of procuring one, I felt a nervous hope again. And then I saw it.
A party in full swing.
The Bell house was loud and packed, and there were strings of tiki lights hanging in their bay windows. This wasn’t a party that happened at the last second. It was a planned party. A planned party that I had not been invited to.
I froze there, devastated, holding the tiny wrench and taking in the spectacle. A pack of girls rushed past me and up the stairs. How had the twins made so many new friends so quickly? The girls knocked on the door, and Calliope opened it and greeted them with happy laughter. They moved past her and into the house. And that’s when she saw me, staring up from the sidewalk.
She paused, and then made a face. “So what? Too good for our party?”
“You know, after spending so much time with my brother, it seems like the least you could do is pop your head in and wish him a happy birthday.”
My mind reeled. “I wasn’t invited.”
Calliope’s expression changed to surprise. “But Cricket said you couldn’t come.”
Explosion. Pain. “I . . . he didn’t ask. No.”
“Huh.” She eyed me nervously. “Well. Bye.”
The lavender door slammed shut. I stared at it, burning with hurt and humiliation. Why didn’t he want me at his party? I stumbled inside my house, yanked my curtains closed, and burst into racking sobs. What happened? What was wrong with me? Why didn’t he like me anymore?
His light turned on at midnight. He called my name.
I tried to focus on the catastrophic blow inside my chest. He called my name again. I wanted to ignore him, but how could I? I opened my window.
Cricket stared at his feet. “So, um, what did you do tonight?”
“Nothing.” My voice was curt as I threw back his own words. “I didn’t do anything.”
He looked upset. It only made me despise him more, for trying to make me feel guilty. “Good night.” I started to close my window.
“Wait!” He yanked at his hair, pulling it taller. “I—I just found out that I’m moving.”
It felt as if I’d been knocked in the skull. I blinked, startled to discover fresh tears. “You’re leaving? Again?”
“Two DAYS from now?” Why couldn’t I stop crying? I was such an idiot!
“Calliope is going back to her last coach.” He sounded helpless. “It’s not working out here.”
“Is everything not working out here?” I blurted. “There’s nothing you want to say to me before you leave?”
Cricket’s mouth parted, but it remained silent. His difficult equation face. A full minute passed, maybe two. “At least we have that in common,” I finally said. “There’s nothing I want to say to you either.”
And I slammed my window closed.
He was doing it right there in the open!” I say. “I’m serious, Charlie was admiring your derriere in chemistry.”
Lindsey brushes it off. “Even if he was, which I sincerely doubt, you know my policy. No guys—”
“Until graduation. I just thought that since it was Charlie . . . and since his eyes did follow you across the room . . .”
“No.” And she takes a ferocious bite of her almond-butterand-jelly sandwich to end the conversation. I hold up my hands in a gesture of peace. I know better than to keep arguing, even if she has had a silent crush on Charlie Harrison-Ming ever since he won twice as many points as her in last year’s Quiz Bowl.
Our first week as juniors at Harvey Milk Memorial High has been as expected. The same boring classes, the same nasty mean girls, and the same perverted jerks. At least Lindsey and I have lunch together. That helps.
“Hey, Cleopatra. Wanna take a ride down my Nile?”
Speaking of jerks. Gregory Figson bumps knuckles with a muscled friend. I’m wearing a long black wig with straight bangs, a white dress I made from a bedsheet, chunky golden jewelry, and—of course—ancient Egyptian eyes drawn in kohl.
“No,” I say flatly.
Gregory grabs his chest with both hands. “Nice pyramids,” he says, and they swagger away, laughing.
“Just when I thought he couldn’t get any more disgusting.” I set down my veggie burger, appetite eliminated.
“And as if I needed another reason to wait,” Lindsey says. “High school boys are morons.”