Lola and the Boy Next Door
Page 17

 Stephanie Perkins

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Nathan swears and grabs my cell. “Where are you? What happened?” He pulls answers from her as he collects his car keys and throws on his shoes. “I’m taking your phone, okay?” he says to me. “Tell Andy where I’m going.” And he’s out the door.
This is not the first time my birth mother has called us from a police station. Norah has a long record, and it’s always for stupid things like shoplifting organic frozen enchiladas or refusing to pay fines from the transit authority. When I was young, the charges were usually public intoxication or disorderly conduct. And believe me, a person has to be pretty darn intoxicated or disorderly to get arrested in this city.
Andy takes the news silently. Our relationship with Norah is hard on everyone, but perhaps it’s hardest on him. She’s neither his sister nor his mother. I know a part of him wishes we could ditch her entirely. A part of me wishes that, too.
When I was little, the Bell twins asked me why I didn’t have a mom. I told them that she was the princess of Pakistan—I’d overheard the name on the news and thought it sounded pretty—and she gave me to my parents, because I was a secret baby with the palace gardener, and her husband, the evil prince, would kill us if he knew I existed.
“So you’re a princess?” Calliope asked.
“No. My mom is a princess.”
“That means you’re a princess, too,” Cricket said, awed.
Calliope narrowed her eyes. “She’s not a princess. There’s no such thing as evil princes or Pakistan.”
“There is, too! And I am!” But I still remember the hot rush of blood I felt when they came back later that afternoon, and I realized I’d been caught.
Calliope crossed her arms. “We know the truth. Our parents told us.”
“Does your mom really not have a house?” Cricket asked. “Is that why you can’t live with her?”
It was one of the most shameful moments of my childhood. So when my classmates began asking, I kept it simple: “I don’t know who she is. I’ve never met her.” I became a regular adoption story, a boring one. Having two fathers isn’t an issue here. But a few years ago, Cricket and I were watching television when he turned to me and unexpectedly asked, “Why do you pretend like you don’t have a mom?”
I squirmed. “Huh?”
Cricket was messing with a paper clip, bending it into a complicated shape. “I mean, she’s okay now. Right?” He meant sober, and she had been for a year. But she was still Norah.
I just looked at him.
And I could see him remembering the past. The Bells had heard my screaming birth mother for years, whenever she’d show up wasted and unannounced.
He lowered his eyes and dropped the subject.
I’m grateful that my genetics don’t bother Max. His father is a mean drunk who lives in a dangerous neighborhood of Oakland, and he doesn’t even know where his mother lives. If anything, Norah makes my relationship with Max stronger. We understand each other.
I leave Andy and head back upstairs. Through my window, I notice Calliope has left Cricket’s bedroom. He’s pacing. My torn pattern mocks me. The sumptuous, pale blue fabrics stacked on my sewing table have lost their luster. I touch them gently. They’re still soft. They still hold the promise of something better.
I’m determined to make up for last night. “Today is all about sparkling.”
Heavens to Betsy cocks her head, listening but not understanding. I place a rhinestone barrette in my pale pink wig. I’m also wearing a sequined prom gown that I’ve altered into a minidress, a jean jacket covered in David Bowie pins, and glittery false eyelashes. I scratch behind Betsy’s ears, and then she trots behind me out of my room. We run into Andy on the stairs, carrying up a basket of clean laundry.
“My eyes!” he says. “The glare!”
“Très funny.”
“You look like a disco ball.”
I smile and push past. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“When is Max bringing you home?”
Nathan is waiting at the bottom. “When, Dolores? A specific time would be helpful.”
“Your hair is doing the swoopy thing.” I set down my purse to fix it. Nathan and I have the same hair—thick, medium brown, and with a strange wave in the front that never behaves. No one ever doubts that Nathan and I are related. We also share the same wide brown eyes and childish grin. When we allow ourselves to grin. Andy is more slender than Nathan and keeps his prematurely gray hair cropped short. Still, despite his hair and despite his additional nine years on this planet, everyone thinks Andy is younger because he’s the one who’s always smiling. And he wears funny T-shirts.
“When?” Nathan repeats.
“Um, four hours?”
“That’s five-thirty. I’ll expect you home no later.”
I sigh. “Yes, Dad.”
“And three phone-call check-ins.”
“Yes, Dad.” I don’t know what I did to deserve the world’s strictest parents. I must have been seriously hardcore evil in a past life. It’s not like I’m Norah. Nathan didn’t get home until after midnight. Apparently, her lock was changed because she hasn’t been paying rent, and she caused a scene by smashing in her front window with a neighbor’s deck chair to get back inside. Nathan is going to visit her landlord today to discuss back payments. And that whole broken window situation.
“All right, then.” He nods. “Have a good time. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
I hear Andy as I’m walking out the front door. “Honey, that threat doesn’t work when you’re g*y.”
I laugh all the way down to the sidewalk. My heavy boots, tattooed with swirls of pink glitter to match my wig, leave a trail of fairy dust as I tramp. “You’re like a shooting star,” a voice calls from the porch next door. “Sparkly.”
My cheer is immediately rendered null and void.
Cricket leaps down his stairs and joins me on the sidewalk. “Going somewhere special?” he asks. “You look nice. Sparkly. I already said that, didn’t I?”
“You did, thanks. And I’m just going out for a few hours.” It’s not like he’s earned full truths or explanations. Of course, now I feel ashamed for thinking that, so I add with a shrug, “I might hit up Amoeba Records later.”