Lola and the Boy Next Door
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This was true. His stare had thrilled me, though I didn’t trust it. The small club was crowded, and he could’ve been watching any of the hungry girls dancing beside me.
“What’s your name?”
“Lola Nolan.” I adjusted my tiara and shifted in my creepers.
“Lo-lo-lo-lo Lo-la.” Max sang it like the Kinks’ song. His deep voice was hoarse from the show. He wore a plain black T-shirt, which I would soon discover to be his uniform. Underneath it, his shoulders were broad, his arms were toned, and right away I spotted the tattoo that would become my favorite, hidden in the crook of his left elbow. His namesake from Where the Wild Things Are. The little boy in the white wolf suit.
He was the most attractive man who’d ever spoken to me. Semicoherent sentences tumbled around in my head, but I couldn’t keep up with any of them long enough to spit one out.
“What’d you think of the show?” He had to raise his voice above the Ramones, who’d started blasting from the speakers.
“You were great,” I shouted. “I’ve never seen your band before.”
I tried to yell this second part casually, like I had just never seen his band before. He didn’t have to know it was my first show ever.
“I know. I would have noticed you. Do you have a boyfriend, Lola?”
Joey Ramone echoed it behind him. Hey, little girl. I wanna be your boyfriend.
The guys at school were never this direct. Not that I had much experience, just the odd monthlong boyfriend here and there. Most guys are either intimidated by me or think I’m strange. “What’s it to you?” I jutted out my chin, confidence skyrocketing.
Sweet little girl. I wanna be your boyfriend.
Max looked me up and down, and the side of his lips curled into a smile. “I see you already need to go.” He jerked his head, and I turned to find Lindsey Lim, jaw agape. Only a teenager could look that awkward and surprised. Did Max realize we were still in high school? “So why don’t you give me your number?” he continued. “I’d like to see you sometime.”
He must have heard my heart pounding as I sifted through the contents of my purse: watermelon bubble gum, movieticket stubs, veggie burrito receipts, and a rainbow of nail-polish bottles. I withdrew a Sharpie, realizing too late that only kids and groupies carry Sharpies. Luckily, he didn’t seem to mind.
Max held out a wrist. “Here.”
His breath was warm on my neck as I pressed the marker to his skin. My hand trembled, but somehow I managed to write it in clear, bold strokes below his tattoos. Then he smiled—that signature smile, using only one corner of his mouth—and ambled away, through the sweaty bodies and toward the dimly lit bar. I allowed myself a moment to stare at his backside. Despite my number, I was sure I’d never see it again.
But he did call.
Obviously, he called.
It happened two days later, on a bus ride to work. Max wanted to meet in the Haight for lunch, and I nearly died turning him down. He asked about the next day. I was working then, too. And then he asked about the next, and I couldn’t believe my luck that he was still trying. Yes, I told him. Yes.
I wore a pink soda-fountain-style waitress dress, and my natural hair—I’m a brunette, average in color—was in two buns like Mickey Mouse ears. We ate falafel and discovered we were both vegetarians. He told me he didn’t have a mother, and I told him I didn’t really either. And then, as I wiped the last crumbs from my mouth, he said this: “There’s no polite way to ask, so I’m just gonna go for it. How old are you?”
My expression must have been terrible, because Max looked stricken as I struggled to come up with a suitable answer. “Shit. That bad, huh?”
I decided delay was my best tactic. “How old are you?”
“No way.You first.”
Delay again. “How old do you think I am?”
“I think you have a cute face that looks deceptively young. And I don’t want to insult you either way. So you’ll have to tell me.”
It’s true. My face is round, and my cheeks are pinchable, and my ears stick out farther than I’d like. I fight it with makeup and wardrobe. My curvy body helps, too. But I was going to tell the truth, I really was, when he started guessing. “Nineteen?”
I shook my head.
“Older or younger?”
I shrugged, but he knew where this was headed. “Eighteen? Please tell me you’re eighteen.”
“Of course I’m eighteen.” I shoved the empty plastic food basket away from me. Outside, I was an ice queen, but inside I was freaking out. “Would I be here if I wasn’t?”
His amber eyes narrowed in disbelief, and the panic rose inside of me. “So how old are you?” I asked again.
“Older than you. Are you in college?”
“I will be.” Someday.
“So you’re still living at home?”
“How old are you?” I asked a third time.
He grimaced. “I’m twenty-two, Lola. And we probably shouldn’t be having this conversation. I’m sorry, if I had known—”
“I’m legal .” And then I immediately felt stupid.
There was a long pause. “No,” Max said. “You’re dangerous.”
But he was smiling.
It took another week of casual dating before I convinced him to kiss me. He was definitely interested, but I could tell I made him nervous. For some reason, this only made me bolder. I liked Max in a way I hadn’t liked anyone in years. Two years, to be exact.
It was in the main public library, and we met there because Max had deemed it safe. But when he saw me—short dress, tall boots—his eyes widened into an expression that I already recognized as an uncustomary display of emotion. “You could get a decent man in trouble,” he said. I reached for his book, but I brushed the boy in the wolf suit instead. His grip went loose. “Lola,” he warned.
I looked at him innocently.
And that was when he took my hand and led me away from the public tables and into the empty stacks. He backed me against the biographies. “Are you sure you want this?” A tease in his voice, but his stare was serious.
My palms sweated. “Of course.”
“I’m not a nice guy.” He stepped closer.