Lola and the Boy Next Door
Page 18

 Stephanie Perkins

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Why does he make me feel guilty? I’m not doing anything wrong. I don’t owe him anything. I shake my head—more at myself than at him—and move toward the bus stop. “See ya,” I say. I’m meeting Max in the Upper Haight. He can’t take me, because he’s picking up a surprise first. A surprise. I have no idea what it is; it could be a gumball for all I care. The fact that I have a boyfriend who brings me surprises is enough.
I feel Cricket’s stare. A pressure against the back of my neck. Truthfully, I wonder why he’s not following me. I turn around. “What are you doing today?”
He closes the distance between us in three steps. “I’m not doing anything.”
I’m uncomfortable again. “Oh.”
He scratches his cheek, and the writing on his hand instructs him to CARPE DIEM. Seize the day. “I mean, I have some homework. But it won’t take long. Only an hour. Two at the most.”
“Right. Homework.” I’m about to say something else equally awkward when I hear the grunt of my approaching bus. “That’s me!” I sprint away. Cricket shouts something, but I can’t hear it over the blast of exhaust as the bus sags against the curb. I grab a seat next to a bony woman in a paisley smock reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
I glance out the window. He’s still watching me. Our eyes lock, and this time, his smile is shy. For some reason . . . it makes me smile back.
“Ooo,” the woman beside me says. “You’re sparkly.”
Chapter eight
I should’ve wished for the gumball.
“It’ll be great for gigs,” Max says, with more animation than usual. “You know how bad it was, loading our stuff into three separate cars. The parking in this city, for one thing. Impossible.”
“Excellent! Right! Exactly!”
It’s a van. Max bought a van. It’s big, and it’s white, and it’s a van. As in, it’s not a ’64 Chevy Impala. As in, my boyfriend traded in his car to buy a van.
He walks around it, admiring its . . . what? Wide expanse? “You know we’ve wanted to tour the coast. Craig knows some guys in Portland, Johnny knows some guys in L.A. This is what we needed. We can do it now.”
“Touring! Wow! Great!”
TOURING. Extended periods of time without Max. Sultry, slinky women in other cities flirting with my boyfriend, reminding him of my inexperience. TOURING.
Max stops. “Lola.”
“You’re doing the girl thing. Saying you’re happy, when you’re not.” He crosses his arms. The spiderwebs tattooed onto his elbows point at me accusingly.
“I’m happy.”
“You’re pissed, because you think when I leave, I’ll meet someone. Someone older.”
“I’m not angry.” I’m worried. And how much do I hate that we’ve had this conversation before, so he knows exactly what I’m thinking? “I’m . . . surprised. I just liked your old car, that’s all. But this is good, too.”
He raises a single brow. “You liked my car?”
“I loved your car.”
“You know.” Max backs me into its side. The metal is cool against my spine. “Vans are good for other things.”
“Other things?”
“Other things.”
Okay. Maybe this whole van situation isn’t a complete loss. My hands are in his yellow-white bleached hair, and our lips are smashed against each other, when there’s a loud, rude “Got any change, man?”
We break apart to find a guy in head-to-toe dirty patchwork corduroy glaring at us.
“Sorry,” I say.
“No need to be sorry.” He glowers at me underneath his white-boy dreadlocks. “I’m only f**king starving.”
“ASSHOLE,” Max shouts as the guy slumps off.
San Francisco is positively crawling with homeless. I can’t walk from home to school without running into a dozen. They make me uneasy, because they’re a constant reminder of my origins, but usually I can ignore them. Look past them. Otherwise . . . it’s too exhausting.
But in the Haight, the homeless are passive-aggressive jerks.
I don’t like coming here, but Max has friends who work in the overpriced vintage clothing boutiques, head shops, bookstores, and burrito joints. Despite the psychedelic graffiti and the bohemian window displays, Haight Street—once the mecca of sixties free love—is undeniably rougher and dirtier than the rest of the city.
“Hey. Forget that guy,” Max says.
He sees that I need cheering, so he leads me to the falafel place where we had our first date. Afterward, we wander into a drag shop to try on wigs. He laughs as I pose in an absurd purple beehive. I love his laugh. It’s rare, so whenever I hear it, I know I’ve earned it. He even lets me put one on his head, a blond Marilyn. “Wait till Johnny and Craig see you,” I say, referring to his bandmates.
“I’ll tell them I decided to grow it out.”
“Rogaine works,” I say in my best Max voice.
“Is that another old man joke?” Max laughs again as he tosses back my pale pink wig. “We should go. I told Johnny I’d meet him at three-thirty.”
I tuck my real hair underneath it. “Because you don’t see him enough at home.”
“You rarely see him,” Max says.
Johnny Ocampo—Amphetamine’s drummer, Max’s roommate—works at Amoeba Records, the one thing I do love about this neighborhood. Amoeba is a vast concrete haven of rare vinyl, band posters, and endless rows of CDs in color-coded genre tabs. There’s still something to be said for music you can hold in your hands.
“I was only teasing. Besides,” I add, “you never hang out with Lindsey.”
“Come on, Lo. She’s nosy and immature. It’s weird between us.”
His words are true, but . . . ouch. Sometimes lying is the polite thing to do. I frown. “She’s my best friend.”
“I’d just rather spend time with you.” Max takes my hand. “Alone.”
We’re quiet as we enter Amoeba. Johnny, a pudgy but muscled Filipino, is in his usual place behind the information desk, which is raised as if the guys behind it hold the end-all truth about Good Musical Taste and Knowledge. Johnny and Max exchange jerks of the head in acknowledgment as Johnny finishes up with a customer. I wave hello to Johnny and disappear into the merchandise.