Lola and the Boy Next Door
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“No. You’re a very nice girl. That’s what I like about you.” And with a single finger, he tilted my face up to his.
Our relationship progressed quickly. I was the one who slowed things back down. My parents were asking questions. They no longer believed I was spending that much time with Lindsey. And I knew it was wrong to keep lying to Max before things went further, so I came clean to him about my real age.
Max was furious. He disappeared for a week, and I’d already given up hope when he called. He said he was in love. I told him that he’d have to meet Nathan and Andy. Parents make him edgy—his father is an alcoholic, his mother left when he was five—but he agreed. And then the restrictions were placed upon us. And then last week, on my seventeenth birthday, I lost my virginity in his apartment.
My parents think we went to the zoo.
Since then, we’ve slept together once more. And I’m not an idiot about these things; I don’t have romantic delusions. I’ve read enough to know it takes a while for it to get good for girls. But I hope it gets better soon.
The kissing is fantastic, so I’m sure it’ll happen.
Except today I can’t concentrate on his lips. I’ve waited for them all afternoon, but now that they’re here, I’m distracted. Bells ring in the distance—from the pagoda? from outside the gardens?—and all I can think is Bell. Bell. Bell.
They’re back. There were three of them this morning, Calliope and her parents. No sign of Calliope’s siblings. Not that I’d mind seeing Aleck. But the other one . . .
I’m startled. Max is looking at me. When did we stop kissing?
“What?” he asks again. “Where are you?”
My eye muscles twitch. “I’m sorry, I was thinking about work.”
He doesn’t believe me. This is the problem of having lied to your boyfriend in the past. He sighs with frustration, stands, and puts one hand inside his pocket. I know he’s fiddling with his lighter.
“I’m sorry,” I say again.
“Forget it.” He glances at the clock on his phone. “It’s time to go, anyway.”
The drive to the Royal Civic Center 16 is quiet, apart from the Clash blasting through his stereo. Max is ticked, and I feel guilty. “Call me later?” I ask.
He nods as he pulls away, but I know I’m still in trouble.
As if I needed another reason to hate the Bells.
My supervisor is rearranging the saltshakers. She does this with an alarming frequency. The theater is in a betweenfilms nighttime lull, and I’m using the opportunity to scrub the buttery popcorn feeling from my arm hair.
“Try this.” She hands me a baby wipe. “It works better than a napkin.”
I accept it with genuine thanks. Despite her neuroticisms, Anna is my favorite coworker. She’s a little older than me, very pretty, and she just started film school. She has a cheerful smile—a slight gap between her front teeth—and a thick, singular stripe of platinum in her dark brown hair. It’s a nice touch. Plus, she always wears this necklace with a glass bead shaped like a banana.
I admire someone with a signature accessory.
“Where in the bloody hell did that come from?” asks the only other person behind the counter. Or more precisely, on top of the counter, where her ridiculously attractive, English-accented boyfriend is perched.
He’s the other thing I like about Anna. Wherever she goes, he follows.
He nods toward the baby wipe. “What else are you carrying in your pockets? Dust rags? Furniture polish?”
“Watch it,” she says. “Or I’ll scrub your arms, Étienne.”
He grins. “As long as you do it in private.”
Anna is the only person who calls him by his first name. The rest of us call him by his last, St. Clair. I’m not sure why. It’s just one of those things. They moved here recently, but they met last year in Paris, where they went to high school. Paris. I’d kill to go to school in Paris, especially if there are guys like Étienne St. Clair there.
Not that I’d cheat on Max. I’m just saying. St. Clair has gorgeous brown eyes and mussed artist hair. Though he’s on the short side for my taste, several inches shorter than his girlfriend.
He attends college at Berkeley, but despite his unemployment, he spends as much time here at the theater as he does across the bay. And because he’s beautiful and cocky and confident, everyone loves him. It only took a matter of hours before he’d weaseled his way into all of the employee areas without a single complaint by management.
That kind of charisma is impressive. But it doesn’t mean I want to hear about their private scrubbings. “My shift ends in a half hour. Please wait until I’ve vacated the premises before elaborating upon this conversation.”
Anna smiles at St. Clair, who is removing the giant ASK ME ABOUT OUR MOVIE-WATCHERS CLUB! button from her maroon work vest. “Lola’s just jealous. She’s having Max problems again.” She glances at me, and her smile turns wry. “What’d I tell you about musicians? That bad boy type will only break your heart.”
“They’re only bad because they’re lame,” St. Clair mutters. He pins the button to his own outfit, this fabulous black peacoat that makes him look very European, indeed.
“Just because, once upon a time, you guys had issues with someone,” I say, “doesn’t mean I do. Max and I are fine. Don’t—don’t do that.” I shake my head at St. Clair. “You’re ruining a perfectly good coat.”
“Sorry, did you want it? It might balance out your collection.” He gestures at my own maroon vest. In between the required Royal Theater buttons, I have several sparkly vintage brooches. Only one manager has complained so far, but as I politely explained to him, my jewelry only attracts more attention to his advertisements.
So I won that argument.
And thankfully no one has said anything about the vest itself, which I’ve taken in so that it’s actually fitted and semiflattering. You know. For a polyester vest. My phone vibrates in my pocket. “Hold that thought,” I tell St. Clair. It’s a text from Lindsey Lim:u wont believe who i saw jogging in the park. prepare yrself.
“Lola!” Anna rushes forward to catch me, but I’m not falling. Am I falling? Her hand is on my arm, holding me upright. “What happened, what’s the matter?”