Lola and the Boy Next Door
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I look up to find Cricket holding six boxes . . . in each hand. And flying down the stairs. “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod,” Andy whispers. I grip his arm in horror, but Cricket bounds easily onto our driveway.
“Ready for these?” he asks.
The pies are still perfectly stacked.
Andy pauses for a moment. And then he bursts into laughter. “Into the car.”
“What?” Cricket asks me as my dad walks away.
“Maybe carry a few less the next time you take a jog down our stairs?”
“Oh.” He grins.
“You’d be an excellent circus juggler.”
He gestures to his legs. “Wouldn’t even have to rent the stilts.”
I notice the opening for a question I’ve had, but I hesitate. “I hope this isn’t rude—”
“Then it definitely is.”
But he’s teasing, so I continue. “Exactly how tall are you?”
“Ah, the height question.” Cricket rubs his hands together. There’s a mathematical equation written there today. “Six four.” He grins again. “Not including hair.”
“And being thin makes me look even taller.”
“And your tight pants,” I add.
Cricket makes a startled choking noise.
OH DEAR GOD. WHY WOULD I SAY THAT?
Andy reappears, slaps him on the back, and then we throw ourselves into the welcome distraction of loading the remainder of the pies. I climb into the backseat to keep them steady. Cricket follows in behind me, and even though he doesn’t have to be here, it feels natural that he should come along for the delivery. Our neighborhood’s traffic is predictably sluggish, but Andy speeds the rest of the way to Russian Hill, past views of Alcatraz and cable cars, and into the area of some of the city’s most expensive real estate.
We find parking at the bottom of the famous part of Lombard Street, the steep hill with switchback curves nicknamed “The Crookedest Street in America.” The narrow, zigzag road is paved with red bricks and bursting with vibrant flowers. We grab the pies—I’m amazed when Andy stacks most of them on Cricket’s arms, trusting him—and run to make the delivery two blocks away.
“You’re ten minutes late, Pie Guy.” A harsh woman with slicked-back hair opens the door for us. “Put them in there. Wipe your feet,” she adds to Cricket as he crosses the threshold, blinded by his pies.
He backs up, wipes them, and moves forward.
“Dirt,” she says. “Again.”
I look at her rug. Cricket isn’t tracking in dirt. He repeats the process one more time, and then we set down the boxes beside an array of crystal decanters in her dining room. She’s glaring at Cricket and me as if she doesn’t like what she sees. That teenagers had anything to do with her party. We stand in uneasy silence as she writes Andy a check. He folds it once and places it in his back pocket.
“Thank you.” He glances in our direction before continuing. “And never call me again. Your business isn’t welcome.”
And then he walks away.
The woman is stunned with indignation. Cricket’s eyebrows pop to his forehead, and I’m barely keeping my laughter under control as we file past her and out the door.
“Hag,” Andy adds, when we join him. “You busted your asses for her.”
Cricket examines himself. “I should have covered my gang tattoos.”
“I wouldn’t let you in my house,” Andy says.
I hug my stomach from laughing so hard.
“Speaking of appearances.” Cricket turns to me. “I’d almost forgotten what you look like.”
The laughter stops dead in my mouth. There wasn’t time for anything fun when Andy woke me up this morning, so I threw on a pair of jeans and a plain black T-shirt. It’s one of Max’s. I’m not wearing makeup, and my hair is hanging loosely. I didn’t think I’d see anyone but my parents today.
“Oh.” I cross my arms. “Uh, yeah. This is me.”
“It’s a rare occurrence to see Lola in the wild,” Andy says.
“I know,” Cricket says. “I haven’t seen the real Lola since my first night back.”
“I like being different.”
“And I like that about you,” Cricket says. “But I like the real you best.”
I’m too self-conscious to reply. The car ride home is unbearable. Andy and Cricket do the talking, while I stare out my window and try not to think about the boy beside me. His body takes up so much room. His long arms, his spindly legs. He has to hunch so that his head won’t hit the ceiling, though his hair still does.
I scoot closer to my window.
When we get home, we’re greeted by a wagging Heavens to Betsy and the sugary warmth of baked goods. I throw my arms around her and breathe in her doggie scent. It’s safer to focus on Betsy. Cricket offers to help with the dishes, but Andy refuses as he reaches for his wallet. “You’ve already done too much today.”
Cricket is surprised. “That’s not why I helped.”
Andy holds out a few twenties. “Please, take something.”
But Cricket puts his hands in his pockets. “I should get home. I just came over to deliver your package.” He nods to the box addressed to me, which is still on the floor outside the kitchen.
Alarm dawns across Andy’s features. “Did you call your parents? Do they know where you are?”
“Oh, it’s fine. They had a big day with Cal planned. I doubt they noticed I was gone.”
But Andy doesn’t look reassured. Something is bothering him.
“See you around.” Cricket reaches for the doorknob.
Andy steps forward. “Would you like to go with us to Muir Woods next Sunday? We’re having a family outing. I’d be honored if you joined us, it’s the least I can do.”
Muir Woods? A family outing? What is he talking about?
“Uh.” Cricket glances at me nervously. “Okay.”
“Great!” Andy says. He’s already talking about picnic baskets and avocado sandwiches, and my mind is going haywire. Not only is this the first mention of a day trip, but . . . Max.
“What about Sunday brunch?” I interrupt. Betsy squirms as I hold her tighter.
Andy turns back to me. “It’s still on for tomorrow.”