Lola and the Boy Next Door
Page 7

 Stephanie Perkins

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“Hey!” Nathan calls after me. “No hug for your dear old pop?”
Andy talks to him in a low voice. Now that I’m at my bedroom door, I’m afraid to go in. Which is absurd. I’m a brave person. Why should one window scare me? But I pause to make sure Nathan isn’t coming up. Whatever waits for me on the other side, I don’t want interruptions.
He isn’t coming. Andy must have told him to leave me alone. Good.
I open my door with false confidence. I reach for the light switch but change my mind and decide to enter Lindsey Lim style. I creep forward in the shadows. The rows of pastel houses in this city are so close that the other window, the one that lines up perfectly with my own, is mere feet away. I peer through the darkness and search for habitation.
There aren’t any curtains on the window. I squint, but as far as I can tell, the bedroom is . . . empty. There’s nothing in there. I look to the right, into Calliope’s room. Boxes. I look down, into their kitchen. Boxes. I look straight ahead again.
No twin.
My entire body exhales. I flick on my light and then my stereo—Max’s band, of course—and turn it up. Loud. I sling off my ballet slippers, tossing them onto the shoe mountain that blocks my closet, and yank off my wig. I shake out my real hair and throw down my work vest. The stupid short-sleeved, collared shirt they make me wear and the ugly boring black pants follow the vest to the floor. My red silk Chinese pajama bottoms come back on, and I add the matching top. I feel like myself again.
I glance at the empty window.
Oh, yes. I definitely feel like myself again.
Amphetamine blasts from my speakers, and I dance over to my phone. I’ll call Lindsey first. And then Max, so that I can apologize for being such a space case at the Tea Garden. Maybe he’s even free tomorrow morning. I don’t have to work until two, so we could go to brunch on our own terms. Or maybe we could say we’re going to brunch, but we can really go to his apartment.
My eyes close, and I jump and thrash to the pounding drums. I spin in circles and laugh and throw my body. Max’s voice is pissed off. His lyrics taunt. The energy of his guitar builds and builds, and the bass thrums through me like blood. I am invincible.
And then I open my eyes.
Cricket Bell grins. “Hi, Lola.”
Chapter four
He’s sitting in his window. Literally sitting in it. His butt is on the windowsill, and his legs—impossibly long and slender—are dangling against the side of his house, two stories above the ground. And his hands are folded in his lap as if spying on his unsuspecting female neighbor was the most natural thing in the world.
I stare, helpless and dumbfounded, and he bursts into laughter. His body rocks with it, and he throws back his head and claps his hands.
Cricket Bell laughs at me. And claps.
“I called your name.” He tries to stop smiling, but his mouth only opens wider with delight. I can practically count his teeth. “I called it a dozen times, but your music was too loud, so I was waiting it out. You’re a good dancer.”
Mortification strips me of the ability to engage in intelligent conversation.
“I’m sorry.” His grin hasn’t disappeared, but he visibly squirms. “I only wanted to say hello.”
He swings his legs back inside of his bedroom in one fluid motion. There’s a lightness to the way he lands on his feet, a certain grace, that’s instantly recognizable. It washes me in a familiar aching shame. And then he stretches, and I’m stunned anew.
“Cricket, you’re . . . tall.”
Which is, quite possibly, the stupidest thing I could say to him.
Cricket Bell was always taller than most boys, but in the last two years, he’s added half a foot. At least. His slender body—once skinny and awkward, despite his graceful movements—has also changed. He’s filled out, though just slightly. The edge has been removed. But pointing out that someone is tall is like pointing out the weather when it’s raining. Both obvious and irritating.
“It’s the hair,” he says with a straight face. “Gravity has always been my nemesis.”
And his dark hair is tall. It’s floppy, but . . . inverted floppy. I’m not sure how it’s possible without serious quantities of mousse or gel, but even when he was a kid, Cricket’s hair stood straight up. It gives him the air of a mad scientist, which actually isn’t that far off. His hair is one of the things I always liked about him.
Until I didn’t like him at all, that is.
He waits for me to reply, and when I don’t, he clears his throat. “But you’re taller, too. Of course. I mean, it’s been a long time. So obviously you are. Taller.”
We take each other in. My mind spins as it tries to connect the Cricket of the present with the Cricket of the past. He’s grown up and grown into his body, but it’s still him. The same boy I fell in love with in the ninth grade. My feelings had been building since our childhood, but that year, the year he turned sixteen, was the year everything changed.
I blame it on his pants.
Cricket Bell had always been . . . nice. And he was cute, and he was intelligent, and he was older, and it was only natural that I would develop feelings for him. But the day everything fell into place was the same day I discovered that he’d become interested in his appearance. Not in an egotistical way. Simply in a “maybe baggy shorts and giant sneakers aren’t the most attractive look for a guy like me” way.
So he started wearing these pants.
Nice pants. Not hipster pants or preppy pants or anything like that, just pants that said he cared about pants. They were chosen to fit his frame. Some plain, some pinstriped to further elongate his height. And he would pair them with vintage shirts and unusual jackets in a way that looked effortlessly cool.
So while the guys in my grade could barely remember to keep their flies zipped—and the only ones who DID care about their appearance were budding homosexuals—here was a perfectly friendly, perfectly attractive, perfectly dressed straight boy who just-so-happened to live next door to me.
Of course I fell in love with him.
Of course it ended badly.
And now here he is, and his dress habits haven’t changed. If anything, they’ve improved. Both his pants and his shirt are still slim-fitting, but now he’s accessorized. A thick, black leather watchband on one wrist, a multitude of weathered colorful bracelets and rubber bands on the other. Cricket Bell looks good. He looks BETTER.