Lola and the Boy Next Door
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“So get a new plate.”
“Lola,” Nathan says, and I give Andy a clean plate. I’m afraid they’re about to turn this into A Thing in front of Max, when they notice Betsy begging for more waffles.
“No,” I tell her.
“Have you walked her today?” Nathan asks me.
“No, Andy did.”
“Before I started cooking,” Andy says. “She’s ready for another.”
“Why don’t you take her for a walk while we finish up with Max?” Nathan asks. Another command, not a question.
I glance at Max, and he closes his eyes like he can’t believe they’re pulling this trick again. “But, Dad—”
“No buts. You wanted the dog, you walk her.”
This is one of Nathan’s most annoying catchphrases. Heavens to Betsy was supposed to be mine, but she had the nerve to fall in love with Nathan instead, which irritates Andy and me to no end. We’re the ones who feed and walk her. I reach for the biodegradable baggies and her leash—the one I’ve embroidered with hearts and Russian nesting dolls—and she’s already going berserk. “Yeah, yeah. Come on.”
I shoot Max another apologetic look, and then Betsy and I are out the door.
There are twenty-one stairs from our porch to the sidewalk. Anywhere you go in San Francisco, you have to deal with steps and hills. It’s unusually warm outside, so along with my pajama bottoms and Bakelite bangles, I’m wearing a tank top. I’ve also got on my giant white Jackie O sunglasses, a long brunette wig with emerald tips, and black ballet slippers. Real ballet slippers, not the flats that only look like ballet slippers.
My New Year’s resolution was to never again wear the same outfit twice.
The sunshine feels good on my shoulders. It doesn’t matter that it’s August; because of the bay, the temperature doesn’t change much throughout the year. It’s always cool. Today I’m grateful for the peculiar weather, because it means I won’t have to bring a sweater on my date.
Betsy pees on the teeny rectangle of grass in front of the lavender Victorian next door—she always pees here, which I totally approve of—and we move on. Despite my annoying parents, I’m happy. I have a romantic date with my boyfriend, a great schedule with my favorite coworkers, and one more week of summer vacation.
We hike up and down the massive hill that separates my street from the park. When we arrive, a Korean gentleman in a velveteen tracksuit greets us. He’s doing tai chi between the palm trees. “Hello, Dolores! How was your birthday?” Mr. Lim is the only person apart from my parents (when they’re mad) who calls me by my real name. His daughter Lindsey is my best friend; they live a few streets over.
“Hi, Mr. Lim. It was divine!” My birthday was last week. Mine is the earliest of anyone in my grade, which I love. It gives me an additional air of maturity. “How’s the restaurant?”
“Very good, thank you. Everyone asking for beef galbi this week. Goodbye, Dolores! Hello to your parents.”
The old lady name is because I was named after one. My great-grandma Dolores Deeks died a few years before I was born. She was Andy’s grandmother, and she was fabulous. The kind of woman who wore feathered hats and marched in civil rights protests. Dolores was the first person Andy came out to. He was thirteen. They were really close, and when she died, she left Andy her house. That’s where we live, in Great-Grandma Dolores’s mint green Victorian in the Castro district.
Which we’d never be able to afford without her generous bequeathal. My parents make a healthy living, but nothing like the neighbors. The well-kept homes on our street, with their decorative gabled cornices and extravagant wooden ornamentation, all come from old money. Including the lavender house next door.
My name is also shared with this park, Mission Dolores. It’s not a coincidence. Great-Grandma Dolores was named after the nearby mission, which was named after a creek called Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. This translates to “Our Lady of Sorrows Creek.” Because who wouldn’t want to be named after a depressing body of water? There’s also a major street around here called Dolores. It’s kind of weird.
I’d rather be a Lola.
Heavens to Betsy finishes, and we head home. I hope my parents haven’t been torturing Max. For someone so brash onstage, he’s actually an introvert, and these weekly meetings aren’t easy on him. “I thought dealing with one protective father was bad enough,” he once said. “But two?Your dads are gonna be the death of me, Lo.”
A moving truck rattles by, and it’s odd, because suddenly—just that quickly—my good mood is replaced by unease. We pick up speed. Max must be beyond uncomfortable right now. I can’t explain it, but the closer I get to home, the worse I feel. A terrible scenario loops through my mind: my parents, so relentless with inquiries that Max decides I’m not worth it anymore.
My hope is that someday, when we’ve been together longer than one summer, my parents will realize he’s the one, and age won’t be an issue anymore. But despite their inability to see this truth now, they aren’t dumb. They deal with Max because they think if they forbade me from seeing him, we’d just run off together. I’d move into his apartment and get a job dancing na**d or dealing acid.
Which is beyond misguided.
But I’m jogging now, hauling Betsy down the hill. Something’s not right. And I’m positive it’s happened—that Max has left or my parents have cornered him into a heated argument about the lack of direction in his life—when I reach my street and everything clicks into place.
The moving truck.
Not the brunch.
The moving truck.
But I’m sure the truck belongs to another renter. It has to, it always does. The last family, this couple that smelled like baby Swiss and collected medical oddities like shriveled livers in formaldehyde and oversize models of vaginas, vacated a week ago. In the last two years, there’s been a string of renters, and every time someone moves out, I can’t help but feel ill until the new ones arrive.
Because what if now is the time they move back in?
I slow down to get a better look at the truck. Is anyone outside? I didn’t notice a car in the garage when we passed earlier, but I’ve made a habit out of not staring at the house next door. Sure enough, there are two people ahead on the sidewalk. I strain my eyes and find, with a mixture of agitation and relief, that it’s just the movers. Betsy tugs on her leash, and I pick up the pace again.