Lola and the Boy Next Door
Page 6

 Stephanie Perkins

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Surely Lindsey saw Calliope. Calliope was the one exercising in the park, as a part of her training. Of course it was Calliope! I shove the other possibility down, deep and hard, but it springs right back. This parasite growing inside of me. It never disappears, no matter how many times I tell myself to forget it. It’s the past, and no one can change the past. But it grows all the same. Because as terrible as it is to think about Calliope Bell, it’s nothing compared to the pain that overwhelms me whenever I think about her twin.
They’ll be seniors this year. Which means that despite the no-show this morning, there’s no reason why her twin wouldn’t be here. The best I can hope for is some kind of delay. I need that time to prepare myself.
I text Lindsey back with a simple question mark. Please, please, please, I beg the universe. Please be Calliope.
“Is it Max?” Anna asks. “Your parents? Oh God, it’s that guy we kicked out of the theater yesterday, isn’t it? That crazy guy with the giant phone and the bucket of chicken! How did he find your numb—”
“It’s not the guy.” But I can’t explain. Not now, not this. “Everything’s fine.”
Anna and St. Clair swap identical disbelieving glances.
“It’s Betsy. My dog. Andy says she’s acting sick, but I’m sure it’s prob—” My phone vibrates again, and I nearly drop it in my frantic attempt to read the new text:calliope. investigation reveals new coach. shes back 4 good.
“Well?” St. Clair asks.
Calliope. Oh, thank God, CALLIOPE. I look up at my friends. “What?”
“Betsy!” they say together.
“Oh. Yeah.” I give them a relieved smile. “False alarm. She just threw up a shoe.”
“A shoe?” St. Clair asks.
“Dude,” Anna says. “You scared me. Do you need to go home?”
“We can handle closing if you need to go,” St. Clair adds. As if he works here. No doubt he just wants me to leave so that he can tongue his girlfriend.
I stride away, toward the popcorn machine, embarrassed to have made a public display. “Betsy’s fine. But thanks,” I add as my cell vibrates again.
u ok?
Yeah. I saw her this morning.
I was gonna call after work. You didn’t see . . . ?
no. but im on it. call me l8r ned.
Lindsey Lim fancies herself a detective. This is due to her lifelong obsession with mysteries, ever since she received the Nancy Drew Starter Set (Secret of the Old Clock through Secret of Red Gate Farm) for her eighth birthday. Hence, “Ned.” She tried to nickname me Bess, Nancy’s flirty, shop-happy friend, but I wasn’t pleased with that, because Bess is always telling Nancy the situation is too dangerous, and she should give up.
What kind of friend says that?
And I’m definitely not George, Nancy’s other best friend, because George is an athletic tomboy with a pug nose. George would never wear a Marie Antoinette dress—even with platform combat boots—to her winter formal. Which left Ned Nickerson, Nancy’s boyfriend. Ned is actually useful and often assists Nancy during life-threatening situations. I can get down with that. Even if he is a guy.
I picture Lindsey parked in front of her computer. No doubt she went directly to the figure-skating fansites, and that’s how she knows about the new coach. Though I wouldn’t put it past her to have walked up to Calliope herself. Lindsey isn’t easily intimidated, which is why she’ll make a great investigator someday. She’s rational, straightforward, and unflinchingly honest.
In this sense, we balance each other out.
We’ve been best friends since, well . . . since the Bells stopped being my best friends. When I entered kindergarten, and they realized it was no longer cool to hang out with the neighbor girl who only spent half days at school. But that part of our history isn’t as harsh as it sounds. Because soon I met Lindsey, and we discovered our mutual passions for roly-poly bugs, sea-green crayons, and those Little Debbies shaped like Christmas trees. Instant friendship. And later, when our classmates began teasing me for wearing tutus or ruby slippers, Lindsey was the one who growled back, “Shove it, fartbreath.”
I’m very loyal to her.
I wonder if she’ll find out anything about the other Bell?
“Pardon?” St. Clair says.
“Huh?” I turn around to find him and Anna giving me another weird look.
“You said something about a bell.” Anna cocks her head. “Are you sure you’re okay?You’ve been really distracted tonight.”
“I’m great! Honestly!” How many times will I have to lie today? I volunteer to clean the fourth-floor bathrooms to stop incriminating myself, but later, when Andy shows up to take me home—my parents don’t like me riding the bus late at night—he eyes me with the same concern. “You okay, Lola-doodle?”
I throw my purse at the floorboard. “Why does everyone keep asking me that?”
“Maybe because you look like . . .”Andy pauses, his expression shifting to barely masked hope. “Did you and Max break up?”
He shrugs, but his Adam’s apple bobs in his throat, a dead giveaway that he feels guilty for asking. Maybe there’s hope for Max and my parents after all. Or, at least, Max and Andy. Andy is always the first to soften in difficult situations.
Which, by the way, doesn’t make him “the woman.” Nothing annoys me more than someone assuming one of my dads is lessthan-dad. Yeah, Andy bakes for a living. And he stayed at home to raise me. And he’s decent at talking about feelings. But he also fixes electrical sockets, unclogs kitchen pipes, squashes cockroaches, and changes flat tires. And Nathan may be the resident disciplinarian and a tough lawyer for the ACLU, but he also decorates our house with antiques and gets teary during sitcom weddings.
So neither is “the woman.” They’re both g*y men. Duh.
Besides, it’s not like all women fit into those stereotypes either.
“Is it . . . our neighbors?” Andy’s voice is tentative. He knows if it is about them, I won’t talk.
“It’s nothing, Dad. It was just a long day.”
We ride home in silence. I’m shivering as I climb out of the car, but it’s not because of the temperature drop. I stare at the lavender Victorian. At the bedroom window across from my own. There’s no light on. The cold gripping my heart loosens, but it doesn’t let go. I have to see inside that room. Adrenaline surges through me, and I jolt up the stairs, into the house, and up another flight of stairs.