Lola and the Boy Next Door
Page 24

 Stephanie Perkins

  • Background:
  • Text Font:
  • Text Size:
  • Line Height:
  • Line Break Height:
  • Frame:
“Peachy,” Andy says.
“It’s just some financial stuff.” I hand Cricket our largest knife for slicing open the pumpkins, along with an apologetic look for Andy’s snippiness. Cricket gives me a discreet smile back. He knows my dad isn’t normally like this.
Andy’s voice is the only one we hear for the next hour as he guides us through production. The original order was for six pies total, but now we’re making six of each: classic pumpkin, vegan apple crumble, pear ginger, and sweet potato pecan. I’ve been helping him bake for years, so I’m pretty good in the kitchen. But I’m surprised by how quickly Cricket adapts. Andy explains that baking is actually a science—leavening and acids, proteins and starches—and Cricket gets it. Of course he’s a natural. Good chemists are good bakers.
But why is he spending his Saturday making pies when he doesn’t have to? Is it that nice-guy thing? Or does he think by spending time with me, I might fall for him? But he doesn’t even try to flirt. He stays away from me, focused on his work. It’s maddening how someone so easy to read can be so impossible to understand.
When the timer rings at noon, Andy lets out a funny noise of surprise. “We’re making good time. We can do this.” And he smiles for the first time all day.
Cricket and I exchange relieved grins across the counter. Andy flips on the radio to a station that plays classics from the fifties, and the kitchen relaxes. Cricket slices apples with rhythm and precision to the beat of “Peggy Sue,” while Andy and I roll out dough in perfect synchronization.
“We could put this routine on ice and take it to Nationals,” Cricket says.
At the mention of ice, Andy pauses. My dad loves figure skating. It is—and I don’t use this expression lightly—the g*yest thing about him. When I was little, he took me to see Stars on Ice. We cheered for the skaters with the prettiest spins and we licked blue cotton candy from our fingers and he bought me a program filled with photographs of beautiful people in beautiful costumes. It’s one of my happiest memories. When Calliope started figure skating, I wanted to do it, too. We weren’t friends, but I still thought of her as someone worthy of admiration. Which meant copying.
“This is okay,” I said after my first lesson. “But when do I get a costume?”
Andy pointed at my plain pink leotard. “That IS your costume, until you’re more experienced.”
I lost interest.
My parents were peeved. The lessons were expensive, so they made me finish out the season. Thus, I can state that figure skating is hard. Andy talked me into another Stars on Ice when I was thirteen, but my daydreams of doing triple axels in sequined skirts were long gone. I still feel bad that I didn’t even try to enjoy it. He’s never asked again.
Andy must have inquired about Calliope, because Cricket is talking about her schedule. “It’s a busy year, because of the Olympics. It just means more: more practices, more promotion, more stress.”
“When will she know if she’s made the Olympic team?” Andy asks.
“If she places in Nationals, she’ll go. That’s in January. Right now she’s working on her new programs, which she’ll take to a few of the early Grand Prix competitions. This year, she’s doing Skate America and Skate Canada. Then it’s Nationals, Olympics, Worlds.” He ticks them off on his fingers.
“Do you go to all of those?” I ask.
“Most of them. But I doubt I’ll make it to Canada. It’s during a busy school week.”
“You’ve seen a lot of figure skating.”
Cricket pulls the softened pumpkin flesh from the ovens. “Oh, have I? Is that unusual?” He keeps a straight face, but his eyes spark.
I resist throwing a dish towel at him. “So what’s the deal with her and second place?You said on your first night back—”
“Cal’s been the most talented ladies’ figure skater for years, but she’s never skated two clean programs in a row in a major competition. She’s convinced that she’s cursed. It’s why she’s always switching coaches, and it’s why she’d rather get third than second. When she gets third, at least she’s happy to have placed. But second. That’s too close to first.”
I’ve stopped working again.
“Second hurts.” He stares at me for a moment before lowering his head back to the pumpkins.
Andy has been rolling piecrusts slowly, following our conversation with interest. He sets down his rolling pin and dusts the flour from his PRAISE CHEESES! shirt. “What have you been up to, Cricket? What are you studying at Berkeley?”
“Mechanical engineering. Not very cool, is it?”
“But it’s perfect for you,” I say.
He laughs to himself. “Of course it is.”
“I meant, it’s perfect because you’ve always built, you know, mechanical things. Contraptions and robots and—”
“Automaton,” he corrects. “It’s like a robot but completely useless.”
The negative tone that’s crept into his voice is disconcerting. It’s a rare thing from Cricket Bell. But before I can say anything, he shakes it off with a smile. “But you’re right. It suits me.”
“I’ve never seen anyone do what you can do,” Andy says. “And from such a young age. I’ll never forget when you fixed our toaster with that coat hanger when you were, what, five years old?Your parents must be so proud of you.”
Cricket shrugs uncomfortably. “I guess.”
Andy’s head tilts. He studies Cricket for a long moment.
Cricket has returned to work, and it reminds me to return to mine. I begin mashing sweet potatoes. The repetition is actually soothing. As much as I hate losing a day off, I love my father’s business. He stumbled into it accidentally when he baked a classic cherry pie with a lattice top for a dinner party, and everyone freaked out. They’d never tasted a homemade piecrust before.
Someone there asked him to make one for another party, and then someone at that party asked him to make several for another. It was a business in the blink of an eye. Nathan jokingly called it City Pie Guy, and the name stuck. The logo is a retrolooking man with a mustache and a gingham apron, winking and holding out a steaming pie.
As the drop-off hour approaches, we talk less and less. By the time the last pies are out of the oven and into their boxes, Andy is on edge again. We’re all sweating. My dad races outside to open the car doors, and I grab two boxes and run out behind him. We’ve just tucked the pies safely inside when the front door opens.