Lola and the Boy Next Door
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Except . . . there’s always a chance. The movers lift a white sofa from the back of the truck, and my heart thumps harder. Do I recognize it? Have I sat on that love seat before? But no. I don’t know it. I peer inside the crammed truck, searching for anything familiar, and I’m met with stacks of severe modern furniture that I’ve never seen before.
It’s not them. It can’t be them.
It’s not them!
I grin from ear to ear—a silly smile that makes me look like a child, which I don’t normally allow myself to do—and wave to the movers. They grunt and nod back. The lavender garage door is open, and now I’m positive that it wasn’t earlier. I inspect the car, and my relief deepens. It’s something compact and silver, and I don’t recognize it.
Saved. Again. It is a happy day.
Betsy and I bound inside. “Brunch is over! Let’s go, Max.”
Everyone is staring out the front window in our living room.
“Looks like we have neighbors again,” I say.
Andy looks surprised by the cheer in my voice. We’ve never talked about it, but he knows something happened there two years ago. He knows that I worry about their return, that I fret each moving day.
“What?” I grin again, but then stop myself, conscious of Max. I tone it down.
“Uh, Lo? You didn’t see them, by any chance, did you?”
Andy’s concern is touching. I release Betsy from her leash and whisk into the kitchen. Determined to hurry the morning and get to my date, I swipe the remaining dishes from the table and head toward the sink. “Nope.” I laugh. “What? Do they have another plastic vagina? A stuffed giraffe? A medieval suit of armor—what?”
All three of them are staring at me.
My throat tightens. “What is it?”
Max examines me with an unusual curiosity. “Your parents say you know the family.”
Someone says something else, but the words don’t register. My feet are carrying me toward the window while my brain is screaming for me to turn back. It can’t be them. It wasn’t their furniture! It wasn’t their car! But people buy new things. My eyes are riveted next door as a figure emerges onto the porch. The dishes in my hands—Why am I still carrying the brunch plates?—shatter against the floor.
Because there she is.
She’s just as beautiful as she is on television.” I poke at the complimentary bowl of cookies and rice crackers. “Just as beautiful as she always was.”
Max shrugs. “She’s all right. Nothing to get worked up over.”
As comforted as I am by his state of unimpress, it’s not enough to distract me. I sag against the railing of the rustic teahouse, and a breeze floats across the reflecting pool beside us. “You don’t understand. She’s Calliope Bell.”
“You’re right, I don’t.” His eyes frown behind his thick Buddy Holly frames. This is something we have in common—terrible vision. I love it when he wears his glasses. Badass rocker meets sexy nerd. He only wears them offstage, unless he’s playing an acoustic number. Then they add the necessary touch of sensitivity. Max is always conscious of his appearance, which some people might find vain, but I understand completely. You only have one chance to make a first impression.
“Let me get this straight,” he continues. “When you guys were freshmen—”
“When I was a freshman. She’s a year older.”
“Okay, when you were a freshman . . . what? She was mean to you? And you’re still upset about it?” His brows furrow like he’s missing half of the equation. Which he is. And I’m not going to fill him in.
He snorts. “That must have been some pretty bitchy shit for you to break those plates over.”
It took fifteen minutes to clean up my mess. Shards of china and eggy frittata bits, trapped between the cracks of the hardwood floor, and sticky raspberry-peach syrup, splattered like blood across the baseboards.
“You have no idea.” I leave it at this.
Max pours himself another cup of jasmine tea. “So why did you idolize her?”
“I didn’t idolize her then. Only when we were younger. She was this . . . gorgeous, talented girl who also happened to be my neighbor. I mean, we hung out when we were little, played Barbies and make-believe. It just hurt when she turned on me, that’s all. I can’t believe you haven’t heard of her,” I add.
“Sorry. I don’t watch a lot of figure skating.”
“She’s been to the World Championships twice. Silver medals? She’s the big Olympic hopeful this year.”
“Sorry,” he says again.
“She was on a Wheaties box.”
“No doubt selling for an entire buck ninety-nine on eBay.” He nudges my knees with his underneath the table. “Who the hell cares?”
I sigh. “I loved her costumes. The chiffon ruffles, the beading and Swarovski crystals, the little skirts—”
“Little skirts?” Max swigs the rest of his tea.
“And she had that grace and poise and confidence.” I push my shoulders back. “And that perfect shiny hair. That perfect skin.”
“Perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring.”
I smile. “You don’t think I’m perfect?”
“No.You’re delightfully screwy, and I wouldn’t have you any other way. Drink your tea.”
When I finish, we take another stroll. The Japanese Tea Garden isn’t big, but it makes up for its size with beauty. Perfumed flowers in jewel-toned colors are balanced by intricately cut plants in tranquil blues and greens. Pathways meander around Buddhist statuary, koi ponds, a red pagoda, and a wooden bridge shaped like the moon. The only sounds are birdsong and the soft click of cameras. It’s peaceful. Magical.
But the best part?
Hidden nooks, perfect for kissing.
We find just the right bench, private and tucked away, and Max places his hands behind my head and pulls my lips to his. This is what I’ve been waiting for. His kisses are gentle and rough, spearmint and cigarettes.
We’ve dated all summer, but I’m still not used to him. Max. My boyfriend, Max.The night we met was the first time my parents had let me go to a club. Lindsey Lim was in the bathroom, so I was temporarily alone, perched nervously against Verge’s rough concrete wall. He walked straight up to me like he’d done it a hundred times before.