Lola and the Boy Next Door
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Andy is behind him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“I’m going to Max’s show!” I yell back.
“You aren’t going anywhere in that mood OR dressed like that,” Nathan says. A familiar white van turns the corner and speeds up our hill. Andy swears, and my parents push out the door but block each other in the process. The van jerks to a halt. Johnny Ocampo slides the door open.
“Do not get in that van,” Nathan shouts.
I give Johnny my hand. He pulls me inside and slams the door. I crash into a folded cymbal stand as the van lurches forward, and I shriek in pain. Max lets out a rapid string of profanity at the sight of blood running down my arm. The van jerks to another stop as he leans back to make sure I’m okay.
“I’m fine, I’m fine! Go!”
I look out the window to see my parents on the sidewalk, frozen in disbelief. And behind them, sitting on the steps of the lavender Victorian—as if they’ve been there for a long, long time—are Cricket and Calliope Bell.
The van roars away.
I shouldn’t have come here.
It takes the band forever to set up, and I’m left alone the entire time. I didn’t bring my phone, so I can’t call Lindsey. The club is cold and unfriendly. I cleaned the blood off my arm in the bathroom, but it was only a scratch. I’m restless. And I feel stupid. My parents will be enraged, Norah will still be in my house, and the twins were witness to another foolish act. The memory of their expressions is almost too much to bear: the scorn of Calliope, the hurt of Cricket, the shock of my parents.
I’m in so much trouble.
As always, my mind returns again and again to Cricket Bell. Muir Woods seems like a lifetime ago. I remember what I felt, but I can no longer remember how.
WHAT’S THAT? WHO’S HERE? Who did my parents send? I’m almost surprised they haven’t showed up themselves—
“We thought it was you.” It’s Anna.
“Hard to tell sometimes .” And St. Clair.
They’re holding hands and smiling, and I’m so relieved that I fall back against the club’s brick wall. “Ohthankgod, it’s you.”
“Are you drunk?” she asks.
I straighten and hold up my chin. “NO. What are you doing here?”
“We’re here to see Max’s band,” St. Clair says slowly.
“Since you invited us? Last week? Remember?” Anna adds at my confusion.
I don’t remember. I was so worried about Max touring and the day trip with Cricket that I could have invited the editor of TeenVogue and forgotten about it. “Of course. Thanks for coming,” I say distractedly.
They don’t buy it. And I end up spilling another private story to them: the story of my birth parents. Anna grasps the banana on her necklace as if the tiny bead is a talisman. “I’m sorry, Lola. I had no idea.”
“Not many people do.”
“So Cricket was with you when you found her on your porch?” St. Clair asks.
His question snags my full attention. I’d purposefully left Cricket out of the story. I narrow my eyes. “How did you know that?”
St. Clair shrugs, but he looks self-chastised. Like he said something he shouldn’t have. “He mentioned something about taking a road trip with you. That’s all.”
St. Clair knows that Cricket likes me. I wonder if they’ve already talked this evening, if St. Clair already knew what happened with my mother. “I don’t believe it,” I say.
“Pardon?” he says.
“Cricket told you. He told you about all of this, about my mother.” Anger rises inside of me again. “Is that why you’re here? Did he send you to check up on me?”
St. Clair’s countenance hardens. “I haven’t spoken with him in two days. You invited Anna and myself here, so we came. You’re welcome.”
He’s telling the truth, but my temper is already boiling. Anna grabs my arm and walks me forward. “Fresh air,” she says. “Fresh air would be good.”
I throw her off and feel terrible at the sight of her wounded expression. “I’m sorry.” I can’t look at either of them. “You’re right. I’ll go alone.”
“Are you sure?” But she sounds relieved.
“Yeah. I’ll be back. Sorry,” I mumble again.
I spend a miserable fifteen minutes outside. When I come back, the club is packed. There’s hardly standing room. Anna has snagged a wooden bar stool, one of the few seats here. St. Clair stands close to her, facing her, and he smoothes the platinum stripe in her hair. She pulls him even closer by the top of his jeans, one finger tucked inside. It’s an intimate gesture. I’m embarrassed to watch, but I can’t look away.
He kisses her slowly and deeply. They don’t care that anyone could watch. Or maybe they’ve forgotten they aren’t alone. When they break apart, Anna says something that makes him fall into silly, boyish laughter. For some reason, that’s the moment that makes me turn away. Something about their love is painful.
I turn toward the bar for a bottle of water, but Anna calls out to me again. I head back, feeling irrationally aggravated that they’re here.
“Better?” St. Clair asks, but not in a mean way. He looks concerned.
“Yeah. Thanks. Sorry about all that.”
“No problem.” And I think we’re leaving it at that when he adds, “I understand what it’s like to be ashamed of a parent. My father is not a good man. I don’t talk about him either. Thank you for trusting us.”
His serious tone throws me, and I’m touched by this rare glimpse into his life. Anna squeezes his hand and changes the subject. “I’m looking forward to this.” She nods toward the band onstage. Max’s guitar is slung low as he adjusts something on his amplifier. They’re about to start. “You’ll introduce us to him afterward, right?”
Max has been too busy to come out and say hello. I feel bad about this. I feel bad about everything tonight. “Of course. I promise.”
“You neglected to mention that he’s much cooler than us.” Worry has crept into her voice.
St. Clair, back to himself, is clearly ready with a catty reply, and I’m pleased that the moment he opens his mouth is the same moment Amphetamine explodes into their set. His words—all words but my boyfriend’s—are lost.