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now I'm in uncharted water (territory getting hotter)

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The first time you see Lola Parker, you're 14 and your hair is tied up. Hers is let loose, cascading down her back and you admire it for a second before opening your locker. Three lockers sit between the two of you but Lola doesn't even blink an eye at you. That's okay though, you didn't expect her to (she looks older; she's at least five inches taller and has no baby fat left in her cheeks) and you don't feel like you've particularly lost out on anything with her not even saying hi.

 

Even then, before you know her name or her reputation, you know Lola Perez with her leather jacket and Doc Martens is the kind of girl who is way too cool for you.

 

Besides, you have to get straight A's and friends - as you'll later learn, especially friends like Lola - are a distraction. You've never gotten on too well with other kids, anyways. Not because you're rude or anything. It's more that you don't get them and they don't get you so the kids in your grade, while friendly if they see you outside of school or if you have to partner up in class, don't bother you and you don't bother them.

 

It's a little lonely sometimes but you've always been the type to prefer curling up with a good book and some hot chocolate to going to the movies or the city.

 

Once you're in your first period (Honors English, no assigned seating so you grab a seat front and center), listening to your teacher go over the course outline, you let your mind drift back to Lola. You still don't know her name yet so you decide she looks like a Carmen. Decide she's all boldness and toothy grins that make people's knees weak. Let yourself think how nice her mouth is because you wish your lips were that full. Your thoughts dance close to her looking down at you and raising an eyebrow, asking something - you can't decide what but she calls you babe and you like it - and with her hands on yours. Then you shake your head clear, remind yourself boldness and toothy grins come with trouble and irresponsibility, and reprimand yourself for not paying attention to your teacher.

 

The smallest part of your mind wonders out loud if that's kind of gay, but you think Miles Daniels is really cute and have been harboring a crush on him since the seventh grade so it can't be. All you were doing was wondering what it would b e like to be friends with her, anyway. That's perfectly normal - you've done it tons of times before.

 

Nothing eventful happens after that but you do run into Miles and he does smile at you which makes your stomach flip uncomfortably.

 

You lie and tell your parents you made friends when they ask.

 

 

Before you know it, it's Halloween. For you, Halloween means staying in and handing out candy with your mom with a witch hat on, so you don't dress up at all, outside of a shirt that reads "BOO" with a ghost beneath it. You figure that it won't even matter because this is high school and you're sure most high schoolers don't have Halloween costumes appropriate for school or that they would even want to wear Halloween costumes to school anyway.

 

You don't find out how right you were about inappropriate Halloween costumes until lunch.

 

Lola, whose name you have now learned thanks to the amount of people who say hi to her in the halls, was late to school (again, she's late at least twice a week, you've noticed) so you hadn't seen her while at your locker that morning. And then she's right there at her locker in a scandalously tight bodysuit with a pair of sheer leggings - you're sure she's violating dress code because that should not be legal - and with her hair tied up tight and sleek and devil horns on her head and - oh. Oh. Okay then.

 

She's turned around, talking to some dumb senior boy, so you don't catch a glimpse of her face and you're really, really glad about that because you kind of can't feel your legs right now and you're sure you'd pass out if you saw just how tight that thing is from the front, especially if it's paired with her usual smirk. You try not to have a heart attack by sticking your head in your planner. Pretend to be busy, Jenny, you tell yourself, pretend not to even notice her.

 

It's not like she'll say hi to you or anything, she hasn't in the month and a half you've been borderline locker mates and she won't now. At least, she better not because this would be the absolute worst time for her to decide she wants to be your friend. And now you know Lola Perez is trouble (you've seen her get detention 3 times already and she's always strolling into school with a coffee or a smoothie or something vaguely alcoholic) and even if you had friends, she wouldn't be the kind of friend you had.

 

Not that you think she'd want to be your friend. You own two laminators and wear your student ID on a lanyard. You're probably the kind of girl Lola would bully if she bullied someone. You don't think that she does though, she seems too relaxed to even worry about bullying someone. It makes her all the more intimidating, in your opinion.

 

"Not in the halls, Noel, back off."

 

It's not the first time you've heard her speak but it is the first time you've heard her speak so ... desperately? You guess her friend - Noel - is really bothering her.

 

Stealing some courage, you glance up from your planner to see what he did. Your stomach plummets and your chest tightens at the sight; Noel's got his hands on her waist, tugging her towards him as she tries to pull away. For a brief moment, you think you might be sick. And then - more stolen courage, planner snapped shut, you say, "she said back off."

 

You don't sound particularly tough - you think you sound kind of like you want to cry, actually - but Noel lets go. Mumbles something like, "was just joking around" and tucks his hands into his pockets.

 

Lola smiles gratefully at you and mouths a thanks.

 

You really wish she hadn't turned around because - wow. You'd never known ponytails could look that good. Quickly, you grab the textbook you'd came for and stuff your lunchbox back into your locker. It feels a lot more childish now that Lola's dark eyes are on you. You make a mental note to get rid of it and also to never talk to her again because you think you'll pass out if she actually says something to you.

 

A year goes by. Not talking to Lola ever again is going well since, after about two weeks, she'd gone from occasionally waving or smiling at you in the halls to pleasantly not knowing you exist again. You even manage to (mostly) forget about just how wow she looked with that sleek high ponytail. Any memories of it are just you wondering how she got it quite like that and nothing more.

 

You're allowed to admire other girls. They're pretty - they're all pretty, that's fine for you to acknowledge.

 

In fact, during the summer between your freshman and sophomore year you let yourself do it more often. There are flickers of doubt that it's really quite normal though you can never name what about it wouldn't be and it doesn't stop you the way that it did when you were younger. Except when your eyes go too low, like to their legs in a bikini. That's a little perverted of you, you're pretty sure.

 

(In a way that you can place but pretend not to know about and tell yourself is just envy.)

 

 

The first day of your sophomore year unfortunately involves Miles Daniels asking you if you want to "hang out" after school, get coffee or something. You feel like you might puke and decide you must have gotten over him over summer. Say, "thank you for asking but I have to babysit for the Andersons today. Sorry." The smile you flash him is more apologetic than you feel for turning him down.

 

It doesn't deter Miles though. Instead, he puffs his chest back out and tries again, "how 'bout this weekend then?"

 

You're half sure the (very pale) color drains from your face. "Um, I'll have to ask my parents if I can," you smile again. This time, it's much more anxious. You hope to God they say you aren't allowed to because you're way too nice to flat out say no to Miles Daniels. Even if you really, really don't like him. Anymore. You don't like him anymore.

 

He grins toothily and nods coolly at you before walking off to his first period. It leaves you wanting to slam your head into your locker about eight times. You don't though, as this is school and that would be wildly inappropriate. Instead, you glance down at your schedule again, determined to memorize it by the end of the day.

 

PARKER, S. JENNIFER

212 AP CHEM - BAUER

227 SPANISH II - GARCIA

309 AP ENGLISH - CARTER

314 GEMOETRY - MERLOS

GYM P.E. - VAN BUREN

204 AP WORLD HISTORY - KAAY

 

Almost entirely AP classes, save for the (forcibly taken) language and your senior geometry class. You wish they would print something to elaborate on that, even though you know that anyone who looked at your schedule would know. It would be nice to have that bit of reassurance. A bit braggy, maybe, but still nice. Whatever though, you don't have all day to stare at your schedule and brood about the fact that there's one detail that makes you a little upset. Not even really upset, to be perfectly honest, more ... slightly unhappy.

 

Folding your schedule neatly and placing it as a bookmark to today's date in your store bought planner, you power walk your way over toward Building 2 for your first period. Today, you decide, is going to be a good day. First days of school are always fun for you.

 

Your fourth period puts a dent in that positivity.

 

It starts with Ms. Merlos' arranged seating chart. She, it seems, has taken it upon herself to ask all of your math teachers from last year whether or not you're talkative in class, and has decided to place all the kids who do talk ("I'm not gonna call you troublemakers, but I have been informed you're some chatty Cathys") in the front and the kids who don't talk ("remember, this doesn't mean you're better than the kids in the front or a quote unquote good kid, just that I don't have a reason to keep a close eye on you, yet") in the back. As in, you. Which is fine, honestly, you can work with this except you love sitting upfront and Ms. Merlos doesn't even know any of you yet and this is the supidest thing ever and you can't stop squeezing your mechanical pencil because of it. 

 

Not that you're upset.

 

At least, you aren't upset until you see a dark haired girl tie her hair up in a really nice, kind of messy ponytail and - oh. You know that dark haired girl. Lola. Of course she talks in class. If you thought about her - which you definitely don't - you would've pegged her for exactly that kind of girl. Not because you think she's trouble (you've seen her get detention at least 8 times though, so you know that she is), she just gives off a friendly, talkative aura. To everyone but underclassmen, apparently, seeing as she's still never even introduced herself to you.

 

And then the bell is ringing and where the hell did the time go? You barely even caught any of what Ms. Merlos said (you know it's all in the syllabus though, she'd opened with that). Did you just spend an hour staring at Lola Perez's ponytail?

 

Oh, God. Maybe you're exactly the kind of kid who should've been seated up front. Who wastes an entire period just staring at a girl's ponytail? (Apparently, you do.) You're so busy fuming at yourself for doing that that you walk right into her like a complete dumbass.

 

Snap out of it, Jenny, you reprimand yourself as you all but whimper an apology to the taller girl.

 

Lola smiles at you like she doesn't have a care in the world, laughs lightly, like air, says, "it's chill, dude," and leaves the classroom with a smoothie in hand that you hadn't even noticed. Where the hell did she get that and why would she bring it to class? You may have spent the period distracted by her but you're pretty sure the syllable must have something against that. How did she not get into trouble?

 

(Maybe Ms. Merlos heard that gentle, raspy voice and couldn't even bring herself to give Lola a warning or whatever. It's certainly making your knees feel like jelly.)

 

Your parents ask you about school again. You say you made friends and don't even mention that Miles asked you out (you've forgotten completely, really). Do your homework, get dressed again, tie your hair up even tighter, and then you're out the door, taking your bike to the Andersons.

 

Trey is too nice (you tell yourself it's not flirting and that if it is, he'll grow out of it soon), AJ is adorable as always, and Bobby has you taste test his homemade cookies. You don't think about fourth period except how terrible it is that Ms. Merlos put you in the back.

 

 

Things go ... better than you'd expected after that. Miles doesn't bother you again after you tell him your parents said you couldn't but you think Billie Jensen is available, you stop staring constantly at Lola's ponytails (instead, you steal three glances every ten minutes and spend the rest of your time diligently working like the good student you are), and you make more than decent cash babysitting. Plus, not that you're surprised by this or anything, your grades are superb and you make the honor roll after first semester, just like you'd been hoping for.

 

So of course, it's right then, when you feel on top of the world and like nothing could bring you down, that something has to go obnoxiously wrong. It feels overtly comical and like something out of a movie when it happens, too. Probably because God wants to make your suffering entertaining or something.

 

Right when things are beyond peachy keen, Ms. Merlos pairs you with Lola for a project. It's not a major project or anything like that but you're still going to have to talk to her and work with her and look at her and you really, really, really don't think you can do all of that.

 

Lola, however, seems to have no issues with being partnered with you. All casual smiles and conversation, like she has no idea her very presence is making you feel like you swallowed a golf ball but it got stuck going down your throat so now you kind of just can't breathe and feel vaguely uncomfortable and incredibly embarrassed. Then again, she probably doesn't. There's not really a good reason for her to think she would have that affect on you (aside from the obvious fact that she's drop dead gorgeous) and you're still not entirely sure why she does.

 

That doesn't make you any less irritated with how she keeps talking (no wonder she sits in the front of the class, you almost think Ms. Merlos ought to put her in the front row) and she just won't shut up. It's friendly and well intentioned but you can't focus and how dare she not know how flustered she's got you!

 

Besides, you already knew you didn't want to be friends with her and you doubt she actually wants to be friends with you. This is probably just her way of passing time without whipping out her phone which you doubt even she could charm her way out of detention for. That thought does it for you, really.

 

"Could you please shut up?" you sigh, completely exasperated, "I will literally do this entire project and just slap your name on it, please just - stop talking. If you keep talking I'm going to screw up and fail and have to go to community college and become a garbage man and I really don't want that."

 

"Whoa, dude, chill out," she laughs, doesn't take you seriously, keeps talking.

 

If her voice wasn't so ridiculously attractive, you would completely forget how pretty she is. Still, you're beyond fed up with her now. You don't even feel bad for being rude now. What kind of person doesn't understand what shut up means?

 

This time, it tears it. "Oh, my god! I will stab myself with this compass if you don't stop! Seriously, please just let me do this project in peace! I'll write your name on it, just - oh, my God. Stop. I will stab myself in the ear."

 

Her arms cross over her chest, her face less friendly now but still not mean. She leans back, kicking her feet up on the metal bars of her desk, chuckles, "ella necesita ser follada." Your Spanish isn't perfect by any means and her annoyingly perfect accent as well as the rate at which she speaks (then again, you guess you shouldn't be surprised by that seeing as her name is Lola) makes it hard for you to understand, but you at least know she's talking about you.

 

"I heard that," you say, "I take Spanish you know." You reach into your bag, pretending to be searching for a pair of scissors but instead pulling your phone out to Google that list bit, momentarily forgetting that Spanish spelling is definitely different from English spelling and Googling "sir folada."

 

Lola snorts at that. "It's ser foyada - " she puts a heavy emphasis on the "ya" sound, " - and it means you need to get fucked."

 

The blood rushes to your cheeks at that. Hand shoots up, urgently needing to get away from Lola (and the thought of sex because God, that's just humiliating). "Ms. Merlos, may I switch partners?" The answer is a firm no and the closest thing to a glare Ms. Merlos has ever given you.

 

You should've asked the moment you were partnered with Lola. Instead, you bow your head with shamefully red cheeks and are sure to spell her name wrong - Lollah Perez. There. That's good enough revenge, even if you do feel more than a little mean for it. You're not the one telling girls you barely know they need to ... to get fucked.

 

The thought leaves you unable to help but imagine your lips trailing down Lola's jaw, carefully working the exposed skin of her neck, lower, lower ... you squeeze your legs tight together and wish you were anywhere else. This was not at all how you wanted to be forced to consider the possibility of you being gay. Not that you are. Because you're definitely, definitely not.

 

And especially not for Lola Perez.

 

 

(Entirely unrelated to any of that, you decide you like Bryce Nolte two periods later.)

 

 

Lola is kind of furious when you get the project back and she sees her name so horribly misspelled. Gets out of her seat and marches down to you, says, "so my name is Loyah now, huh?" with her eyebrows narrowed and her nose crinkled in a way that would be cute if you weren't still mad at her for what she said.

 

You brush it off as casually as you can in class because you don't think she'll cause a scene right in front of the teacher. Even manage to coolly say, "sorry, babe, total accident, I probably wouldn't have missed it if you had shut up the first time I asked."

 

The bell rings before she can say whatever her retort is but her mouth is twisted open angrily and you really, really hope what she's going to say doesn't get meaner with a period to think about it. Maybe you shouldn't have misspelled her name so badly. An extra L could've been a genuine mistake, especially since she no doubt thinks your Spanish is abysmal now, but an H? That was probably too far.

 

Great. Now you feel bad.

 

You get to your locker to grab your sack lunch and Lola is already there, ready to make you feel worse, no doubt.

 

She does, of course. Her rant is in rapid fire Spanish and you catch only a few key points - she calls you a gringa and the gist of the whole thing is about how gringas apparently lack respect for the Spanish language and something about racism and white people not caring about people of color's names which just makes you feel like a total jerk because that's not how you meant it at all. You don't think intent matters though, especially not when Lola finishes her rant with a vehemently growled, "babe" and slams your locker shut before marching off.

 

That weekend, you watch three documentaries about modern day racism and read twelve articles. You decide to write out an apology for the name thing but only that, because you're still pretty sure you were totally in the right with telling her to shut up, even if you did kind of say it meanly.

 

You slip the apology into her locker and the only sign you get that she read it is that she doesn't glare daggers at you or hiss out the word babe like she wants to kill you again. Which, you suppose, is fine and dandy. It makes you feel a lot better, at least. You hope that's not selfish because you really did feel bad when she told you, even if you barely understood her.

 

She still doesn't talk to you at all though (not that you ever made an effort to talk to her either), so you guess you're back where you started. Except at least now you're a little more socially aware.

 

And you have to pretend not to know why you can't stop staring at her ponytails in class. You're not gay though. Not gay gay at least. Definitely not. As in, no way in a million billion years could you possibly be a lesbian. (Right?) You like boys. You have to like boys. You definitely like boys. (There's also just the faintest chance you like girls too. Or maybe just Lola. But you totally doubt it because there's just no way - not that you think there's anything wrong with girls liking girls, it is 2015 after all. You just don't like girls. Or Lola.)

 

 

For the first time in your life, you get a B. In geometry, too. Apparently the staring system you worked out should definitely not have been used on any tests.

 

Your parents aren't mad at all because they're your parents and they love you and "honey, don't cry, a B is still great!" but you're furious. At Ms. Merlos for seating you in the back, at Lola for always tying her hair up in fourth period, at yourself for staring at her for it. Mostly at yourself. You really can't blame anyone else for your grades. You can try (and you really do try) but it doesn't work because, really, it is your own fault for staring.

 

Still, you can't help but sulk around your locker more moodily than ever when you catch sight of Lola there and mumble incoherently under your breath about how it's her fault (it's not, you know this of course).

 

If she notices, she says nothing. Doesn't even look at you unless you're standing in the way of someone she wants to look at. That only makes you sulk more. It's childish, sure, but you can't help but want her attention even though you know that if she gives it to you, you'll push her away.

 

(Part of you is reminded of how your parents told you once that when little boys do things like pull on your hair it's because they like you and don't know how to deal with that. The rest of you ignores that because you're pretty sure you shouldn't try to hurt the people that you like and that, once more, you don't like Lola.)

 

The rest of the school year goes by and the most Lola says to you is "sorry, dude" after her friend (boyfriend?) runs into you while chasing after his friend.

 

And then she graduates.

 

You see her at the ceremony. You go for your TA in English because she'd been nice to you and was the closest thing you'd had to a friend all year (really, since the entire time you've been in school). She hugs you and you congratulate her and walk with her to the parking lot. She invites you to some restaurant with her and a group of ten but the thought of being with that many people, especially ones you don't know, terrifies you so you tell her you've got plans tonight.

 

It's not until you're walking to your bike that you see Lola. This time, some boy (the one who ran into you) has his tongue down her throat and she's holding on tightly to a camera, not looking particularly into him or the kiss. She pulls away laughing as he says something that sounds a lot like "you bit me!"

 

"Say cheese, Nico!" she snaps a picture of him, hand to his lip and mouth half open with spit dripping down his chin, "you're so photogenic, wow."

 

You can't tell if she's being sarcastic or flirting or both but you feel like you're intruding on something you shouldn't as you speed walk past them to your bike. Your cheeks must be bright red because your face feels like it's burning. It's just embarrassment, Jenny, you tell yourself, you saw two people making out - that's embarrassing. And normal. Totally, definitely normal.

 

Lola doesn't let you just walk past her. "Hey, kid, I didn't know you had senior friends," she grins toothily and you suddenly feel very welcome to the idea of being eaten alive. Or in other ways. God, that's disgusting!

 

"Oh, uh, yeah, um, Rosie, my TA," you say, the anxiety hitting you like a ton of bricks as you try not to chew the inside of your cheeks too hard.

 

"Rosie Jaruegi? She's so uptight," Lola's laugh sounds like - you're not sure what actually, you've never heard anything like it. It dazes you a bit and then her camera is up again and she's saying, "hey, smile for the camera."

 

Your face must be bright red, your ponytail slightly askew, and your mouth stupidly half open.

 

Lola smiles softly at the result anyway. Almost fondly. But then again, you're not really sure what fond smiles look like and you're probably just wishing she would smile like that.

 

"Catch you later, kid," she laughs as the boy - Nico, you think she said his name was - tugs her away by her waist. For a second, you wonder what just happened. Then you recompose yourself. She called you kid twice, probably doesn't actually remember your name - or knows you keep staring at her and wants to remind you she's too old for you. She was making out with a boy seconds before she said hi to you. She took a picture of him too. Come to think of it, you've seen Lola take lots of pictures of people. Maybe not just for the yearbook.

 

Yeah. That's probably it. Lola just likes photography. You pretend not to know why that disappoints you so much.

 

 

Junior year goes by with little to no trouble. Exams are hell but your grades are impeccable. You don't make any friends but you have a study group now, at least. Your art TA is super nice to you and gives you the good brush when she passes them out. You run into Lola once, at the mall and don't say anything to her (she doesn't recognize you, you think, she must have a hundred friends to remember and you were never one of them). You build a relationship with Professor Anderson through babysitting her kids. No boys talk to you, except Zac Chase who's nice and friendly and would never date you. You like him, of course. Because you're a girl who most definitely only likes boys, even if those boys never seem to like you back. It's just bad luck. It's not like you intentionally choose to like boys who you have no chance in hell with.

 

You'll date later. Like after college. A few years after college. You've got time.

 

(Worst case scenario: you learn to pretend to like dating boys.)

 

Oh, one actually interesting thing happens your junior year. You get diagnosed with ASD, which, you suppose you should've figured out on your own considering the fact that social cues make almost zero sense to you and you get so frantic about things being done a certain way. It's not a huge deal though, at least you don't think so.

 

 

The photography internship isn't even something you actually need, to be perfectly honest. Your application is already fantastic without it (though you still need that recommendation letter). All it is to you is a cherry on top of the beautifully decorated cake. Maybe a little bit of security to make sure you extra stand out, or to make up for that one B (that Ms. Merlos refused to let you to extra credit or anything to boost, honestly you think she hates you), but nothing needed.

 

Still, you put your portfolio together as neatly as you can and arrive perfectly on time and without a wrinkle in your outfit and with your signature ponytail. You deserve to go to a nice college and this is a great opportunity for you. Besides, photography is fun!

 

You hadn't expected to see Lola though. She's got a smoothie in hand and camouflage pants on and for the briefest second, your heart flutters because she looks just like she did that first day in geometry, just minus the ponytail. And then she thinks you're Mr. Vasquez's assistant and you can't help but be totally offended. Fine though, if Lola doesn't recognize you then you don't recognize her.

 

Her head cocks after you correct her, like she's putting a puzzle together.

 

Mr. Vasquez's actual assistant comes out before she can say anything though. He takes both your portfolios (hers is apparently still wet which just seems unprofessional to you) and tells you to have a seat. Apparently Mr. Vasquez is "having an artistic moment." Not that that actually makes any sense.

 

Lola takes a sip from her smoothie after practically lying down in the chair. Says, "hey, did you go to Hyland Park?"

 

"Yes," you try not to tap your fingers against your knees, "I still do."

 

Now she remembers. "You were that nerdy sophomore in my senior geometry class!" there's a grin on her face. You're not sure if it's reminiscent or fond or - actually, you just can't read it at all.

 

Nerdy. Of course that's what she thinks of you. She's Miss Badass, who doesn't care at all about anything and wears like eight necklaces at once apparently and brings smoothies wherever she pleases. Someone like you, who actually abides by rules and keeps their wardrobe organized and tidy and thinks smoothies are messy, must look like a total loser in her eyes.

 

You correct her anyways, because you're not nerdy you're just smart and dedicated and you skipped a grade. All it does is make her judge you which only serves to make you even more anxious and leaves you rambling about your achievements and how this internship is going to look great on your college application. Judging by the look on her face (and the words out of her mouth, "transcript? That's why you're here?"), that wasn't at all the right thing to say. You're hasty to add that you do like photography - you like it a lot, actually, way more than you'd expected to - it's just that that's a bonus.

 

"Right, right," she says, the disdain even clearer than her skin (seriously, what is this girl's skincare routine?), "well do you wanna know what I did my last year before college?"

 

"You were accepted into college?" It's a mean thing to say but you're pretty sure that she's either going to drive you crazy or anger you into doing something stupid (like kissing her, maybe, her mouth is still really pretty) if you're not as mean as you can be to her. Which, granted, isn't actually all that mean.

 

She lets out a fake laugh which faintly reminds you of her actual laugh. You miss that sound but keep your gaze as judgmental as hers. "I could've been - " of course, she didn't go to college, you figured she talked in class way too much for that " - you see, a real artist is a student of life - " what does that even mean? " - anyway, an internship with Leon Vasquez would fast track my career as a photographer."

 

Professor Anderson calls and interrupts her, she's in need of a babysitter but you're booked for the night. Lola seems to find that hilarious - until she finds out how much babysitting makes you an hour. The look on her face leaves you feeling smug until she reminds you, sharp tongued as ever, that unlike you, she has a life.

 

Thankfully, Mr. Vasquez comes out and you don't have to try and tolerate Lola any longer. (Seriously, you can't even see why you thought you liked her now that you've fully conversed with her.) You're not so relieved when you accidentally knock into Lola and she spills her smoothie everywhere and you both drop your phones. Or when Mr. Vasquez says he needs to see even more work from both of you by Monday to know who he's going to give the internship to because it's just really inconvenient when you have to babysit for the Coopers tonight.

 

And then it gets even worse when your phone rings except it's not your phone at all because you don't even know what that ringtone is but it is most definitely not Beethoven. Which means Lola has your phone and you have hers and you don't have enough time to get it back before you head to the Coopers'. Plus you have no idea whatsoever where Lola lives or if she'll even answer if you call the phone.

 

But you're totally not freaking out because you're a reasonable person and you're at the Coopers' already and you can absolutely get your phone back tomorrow. It's not like anyone is going to call you to hang out anyway. As much as that stings to remember, it's a good thing. You won't miss anything important and things will be just fine. You're sure of it.

 

Things are not just fine. The anxiety gets to you a little while after the Coopers leave and you decide to call your phone. Lola doesn't pick up but AJ Anderson does. Apparently, Lola is babysitting. And putting out a fire.

 

You're in your car with Emily and Katy within four minutes and at the Andersons' in less.

 

The first thing you see is Lola, in a modest bathing suit that very much suits her tanned skin and with her hair pulled up, banging on the front door with her camera in hand. The urge to yank her around by said ponytail (in the least kinky and most heterosexual way possible, of course) rises in your chest. You don't though, instead you demand to know what in the world she's doing.

 

"Babysitting, obviously," she scoffs like everything is handled and she's not half naked on the porch of the woman you very much need a recommendation letter from.

 

Once you get inside, it's a mess and all Lola does is tell the kids to clean as she takes a picture. Because, obviously, this mess she caused needs to be documented. Then, because things need to get even worse, Emily asks where Trey is - and Lola doesn't even know who Trey is.

 

Emily goes up to his room and finds the window wide open. His tablet tells the rest of the story. He bought a concert ticket from a pawn shop and sneaked out with a friend (older, no doubt, able to drive and yet still making terrible life choices - just like Lola).

 

You round on Lola immediately for letting a 14 year old sneak out to the city without any supervision to go see a concert. Even worse, she's using your name to do all of this - no doubt she recommended herself while posing as you and now Professor Anderson is never going to write that recommendation letter and your whole entire life is ruined and you have to become a garbage man.

 

Except - "he has to pick up the concert tickets, right? I can drive into the city and get him."

 

"I know the city, I'll get him," she sounds so casual and unaffected by all of this. It kind of makes you want to smack her or yell or something

 

"You're the one who lost him," you snap.

 

Her voice is still perfectly even, like she didn't hear the break in yours, "relax, girlfriend, I'm just trying to help."

 

That's the last straw. (Not because you're gay and it flusters you - absolutely not.) "I'm not your girlfriend!" you say, the panic even more evident now. You realize that could make it sound like you are gay and are just in denial to the kids so you're quick to add, "I'm not your friend, I don't even know you!"

 

Except you do. You were almost-locker-mates for two years and you stared at her every day she wasn't absent in geometry for a year and you yelled at her for talking too much when you were paired together and you misspelled her name on purpose like you hadn't memorized it (hadn't ever thought the name Jenny Perez sounded kind of pretty) and she yelled at you and you wrote a note on nice paper to apologize and she has a picture of you with red cheeks and a half open mouth and you draw a girl who looks a lot like her when you're bored sometimes. But ... you guess that doesn't really count because you never really tried to talk to her until today.

 

The kids take it, at least. It's blackmail material for them to get in the car with you. The car that definitely can't be yours or Lola's now because that many people won't fit so ... that leaves Professor Anderson's brand new SUV. At the very least, you don't let Lola drive because she does not seem like she would be a responsible driver. At all.

 

Lola retaliates by complaining about your driving speed. And taking a very unflattering picture of you. Like, probably worse than the photo she took of you at her graduation but she apparently doesn't know that because she barely recognized you. Your heart kind of flutters at the knowledge that Lola Perez has used you as a model twice now. Even if you look awful in both photos.

 

You pretend not to notice that this time she smiles a little differently at the result. She's probably just mocking you this time, anyway.

 

Oddly enough, Lola doesn't say another mean or even kinda petty thing the rest of the drive. Instead she takes to assuring the kids that you guys aren't total strangers or anything, you had geometry together and your lockers were nearby (you can't help but smile at the fact that she remembers that before you remember that she's terrible and all of why you had to steal a car), you just didn't talk to each other.

 

"Because I was like, way too cool to talk to nerdy sophomores, you know? I think we got paired on a project once though, pretty sure she threatened to stab herself if I didn't stop talking. Or maybe that was another nerdy blonde chick." The grin on her face is completely teasing, you're pretty sure. But you aren't friends so you just whine and insist once more that you aren't nerdy, you're just dedicated.

 

She laughs at that (so do the kids). Her laugh is just as nice as you remember it.

 

You're still mad at her though.

 

 

The pawn shop, as it turns out, is in a horrible, grimy part of the city that almost gives you a panic attack. Thankfully, Lola is already unbuckling and volunteering to go in. My hero, you let yourself think, even if this whole thing is her fault.

 

But of course you can't be allowed to stay safely inside the car and Katy has to pee and Lola obviously cannot be trusted with children so you'll have to go inside with her and Emily, Bobby, and AJ definitely can't be allowed to stay inside the car all by themselves so they have to come inside too. Really, why can't anything go your way? Even just once would be nice.

 

That's probably Lola's fault too. Well, no, you suppose she couldn't have made Katy have to go to the bathroom but still. Your luck is about fifty times worse than normal around her and you absolutely cannot stand it. Or her, and her really pretty eyes and easygoing smile which doesn't even fade from her lips inside the pawn shop which is even more horrible and even grimier than the part of the city that it's in.

 

Lola is so nonchalant about this all, like she does this every day (you really hope she doesn't) and it really just makes you that much more anxious and stressed out. She lets you hide behind her in fear as she deals with the beyond shady employees like they're nothing. Even though, you know, one of them is armed. And called The Scalper!

 

For the briefest second, you think it's kind of chivalrous of her to do this for you. Kind of like she's your knight in shining armor. Except that's stupid and you're totally straight and into Zac Chase and if not for Lola, you wouldn't even have to be here right now, cowering behind her because she's dealing with some guy called The Scalper. That gets the anger inside you back up. Not enough to like do or say anything though because you don't want to get scalped.

 

Your fear comes back so fast it could crush you the moment some weird, possibly rabid animal escapes and everyone is screaming and oh, God the kids (you yell for them to stay away from that thing and grab whichever ones are closest to you to pull them away to safety) and Tiny and The Scalper are chasing that thing around and Lola is trying to get a picture. Jesus Christ, what is with that girl and pictures? She's gonna get killed someday over that camera!

 

(Thinking that just makes you anxious for her because even though you're mad at her she doesn't deserve to die.)

 

She gets her picture once Tiny gets his weird, possibly ferret animal thingy. Even though you know she heard him tell her not to take pictures. Oh, oh.  He really meant no more pictures.

 

You find yourself exasperated and scared and mad all at once, saying, "Lola! No means no!" like you're at some college rape seminar. And then, amidst the chaos (because you can't seem to escape that today), you spot Professor Anderson's car. Being towed. You're out the door with the kids and Lola in seconds, chasing the tow truck. She finally stops for you and tells you it's $100 to get the car back.

 

That might put a bit of a dent in your savings but that's totally affordable thanks to all your years of babysitting, at least. Except you left your bag and consequently your wallet at the house. And Lola is broke, hence why she lied to get a babysitting gig. And then, well, your other options are children and your ice cream fund.

 

So the not so nice lady drives off and into the giant puddle, completely soaking Professor Anderson's brand new car in mud. Because just saying no to you guys wasn't enough.

 

Maybe Lola really is bad luck for you.

 

Once you've got your game plan mapped out (take the bus to Mario's, get Trey, and go from there), God or whoever's up there decides to make your night just a little worse (because that's necessary, of course) by sending Tiny and The Scalper running after you. This time, you freeze in terror and so Lola has to yell out what you all need to do. She keeps it very simple, sticking with a for once not totally relaxed yell of, "run!"

 

You're definitely out of breath once you reach the bus stop. P.E. was never your favorite class and you always preferred speed walking to running but, hey, at least no one got scalped. Lola even helps you get onto the bus. Where you promptly find out via the bus driver Carl that you're $2 short for you all to ride said bus.

 

Her reaction is immediate, like she's done this a hundred times before. She starts talking, voice just slightly lower than normal, and it sounds so charming you let her grab you and smile and wave timidly when she introduces you. And then she blames you for being $2 short of the fare and is quick to divert the conversation to Trey with an even lower, kind of pouty tone that kind of makes your knees weak until you realize she's pretending to care about Trey.

 

"Don't pretend to care about Trey - honestly, Carl, she doesn't care about anyone but herself," you say, all your previous anger building up again.

 

She scoffs at that, eyebrow cocking up to challenge you. "I care about a lot of things, Carl - " you're starting to feel bad for Carl, it's like he's a child caught in the middle of his parents' argument " - like art and expression and photography! I bet she didn't even know who Leon Vasquez is until today."

 

While not quite right, Lola is infuriating close to the truth, which is that you hadn't known who he was until you read about the internship. "I did too! I read all about him!" you snap back, wishing she wasn't almost right.

 

"Oh, please," she sneers, "I saw your portfolio, it's as stiff as you are. Where'd you learn to take pictures, sweetheart, your computer?"

 

If you weren't so mad at her for talking to you like this when it's all her fault, you'd be humiliated that she called you sweetheart in public. Instead, you stumble over your comeback as best you can, "where'd you learn all the snappy sarcasm, we know it wasn't college."

 

Even Carl is sick of you two at this point. At the very least, he's sick enough to let you ride the bus despite the $2's owed.

 

Lola snaps another picture of you, this time telling Carl you'll pay him the $2 some other time and looking like you want to cry as he yells. You're starting to think she just deeply enjoys getting pictures of you where you look bad.

 

She smiles a little more softly at the outcome this time though. Leans a little closer to you, so her mouth is at your earlobe, and, with the corners of her lips curled up in what's now a smirk, says, "by the way, I learned from my family. Latinos love to roast each other."

 

The feeling of her breath against your skin makes you shiver. She chuckles at the goosebumps she elicits and your cheeks go a deep shade of red. You're starting to get a little less certain of your sexuality. Just a little.

 

Trey hits on you when you get there and one of his friends says you're hot. It makes you want to crinkle up your nose in disgust which doesn't really do much to help the "I'm straight" argument you spent most of the bus ride trying to build. Except, Trey is a baby and you're pretty sure his friend is too, so you decide they don't even count in either argument. And then Trey also very much perks up at the sight of Lola, who's quick to express her disdain with crossed arms and what you imagine is her best authoritative voice.

 

You ridicule her despite the fact that you admire her no bullshit stance because you can't let her think you're not mad at her anymore just because she made you blush.

 

Trey pays no mind to that, still eager to go to the concert as if you'd ever let him. Especially now that he's sneaked out. Besides, you've got bigger issues - like the towed car you need $100 to get back.

 

And then Lola kind of strikes gold - "wait that's it, why don't we just scalp Trey's concert ticket to get the cash for the car?"

 

It doesn't make you less mad at her for causing all of this but you do have to give it to her - once you clarify what she means, at least - that is a good idea. You're not entirely sure about the legality of that but you don't exactly have a lot of other choices. Plus it's kind of really cool how she gets Trey to agree by essentially blackmailing him. Like, it's not cool because blackmail is wrong but she makes it sound so reasonable and responsible which you definitely like.

 

Not that you'd tell her that though, or that it changes anything. Well, maybe it changes a few things. You at least trust her to not let any of the kids die while you take Katy to the bathroom now.

 

You kind of wish you'd let Lola take Katy to the bathroom though. At least, once you hear some girls from school (all way too cool to talk to you but nice enough to say hi in the halls) talking about Zac Chase taking Dominique Cassidy to the concert. Dominique is really pretty and nice and the thought of Zac at the concert with her ... doesn't actually upset you that much. Not once you accidentally shout no at hearing he's taking her, at least.

 

They leave the stalls in seconds, say hi and that they didn't expect to see you here ever. Then they ask who you're here with and, while you probably could just say Lola's name because they look like they're cool enough to know who Lola is, the thought of admitting you're here with Lola and just Lola (because you definitely can't mention the kids you're babysitting) makes your throat close up. What if they thought it was a date or something? What if they thought you were gay? That would definitely be worse than them thinking you have no friends (which you don't).

 

So you lie. Really badly. And then Katy needs your help and you pretend not to know her but tell her you'll help her find her mommy and get out of there as fast as you can. In tune with the rest of your day, embarrassment is not punishment enough for whatever you did to piss God off and the kids are nowhere in sight and neither is Lola.

 

You're shouting for AJ when Lola decides now is a good time to pop up and take yet another picture of you. At this point, you're just mildly annoyed by it (and think it's just a tad endearing that she likes taking photos so much, especially photos of you).

 

"Lola," you groan, "where are the kids?"

 

She doesn't look up from the camera lens as she answers, "uh, specifically? I don't know, around."

 

Trusting her with them was a giant mistake.

 

"Are you out of your mind?" You ignore that she mumbles possibly in reply as she adjusts the zoom on her camera. "Babysitting rule #1: never take your eyes off the kids!" Quickly, you locate them throughout the restaurant. All except for Emily. Oh, God, where is Emily?

 

Apparently, you said that out loud because Lola answers (way too casually, as per usual), "uh, she's getting a tattoo."

 

This girl is definitely out of her mind.

 

Emily comes back a few moments later, though. Safe and hopefully ink-less seeing as she's 14 which is way too young for tattoos. She's all smiles as she shows off the henna the tattoo guy apparently gave her free. You hope to God it will wash off as Lola grins and takes a picture of it.

 

You reprimand he, voice flustered, and she tells you she'd asked Lola who doesn't even deny that Emily did (though she does say it as though she'd forgotten it happened until it was brought up). "Lola ... Lola is nobody, okay?" Ignore the way she looks like a kicked puppy now that you've said that. "You can't just wander off like that. Something could have happened to you! You are my responsibility and that better come off with soap and water!"

 

There's not enough time for Emily to respond or for Lola to even say a screw you for calling her nobody like that because Bobby is yelling for you and Tiny and The Scalper are back. You grab Trey and Lola's ushering the other kids out the back door of the restaurant before anyone can even explain to him what's happening and - oh crap, there's no way out of this ally unless you can climb the fence.

 

"Over here!" Lola shouts, pulling a door open.

 

You end up hiding behind some machine, you holding onto AJ in fear and her with her hands protectively around Katy. You think Trey's got Bobby and know Emily is by your feet but all you can do is stare nervously at Lola's hand, vaguely wishing she'd hold yours and tell you it's alright.

 

She doesn't. What she does do is suggest you all hide in the clothes being moved throughout the building to escape Tiny and The Scalper. It's definitely not hand holding and it doesn't ease your anxiety at all but it might just get you all out of this alive and un-scalped. Alive and un-scalped definitely sounds like something you want so you agree to it even though you think it's absolutely insane.

 

It works. Kind of. They spot Lola amongst the clothes but they can't exactly reach any of you from down there and you're sure there's a door or something somewhere for you all to escape out of. You just have to focus on not crying and running the second you can. And not letting any of the kids die because that would be awful - and if you let one of them die, Professor Anderson would so not write you a recommendation letter. Mostly the first bit though.

 

The kids, for their part, are all laughing now after mocking Tiny and The Scalper and then getting off the conveyor belt thingy with help from you and Lola. You suppose now that you're not just dangling up there it is kind of fun. Dangerous, completely irresponsible, and not something you ever want to do again but fun.

 

And then you're standing at the edge with what must be at least a twenty foot drop and it's not so fun anymore.

 

"We can't get around this, guys," you say, already thinking of a million ways Tiny and The Scalper might kill you all to get Lola's camera, "there's no way out."

 

"Yeah there is," Trey tugs at the chain in front of him, a grin you definitely don't like on his face, "there's an awesome way out."

 

The other kids (and Lola, who lets out a laugh that makes you nervous) seem to like that idea a lot and it's not like you can think of anything else right now, let alone anything better. You end up watching the kids jump down, gripping the chain for dear life, one by one until it's just you and Lola, who shrugs and says, "ladies first" before nudging you towards it. You wonder briefly if maybe she's scared to jump.

 

"Ready?" she asks as you grab the chain.

 

You're not actually sure what you say as you jump but you hear the familiar click of her camera and you realize that, no, she wasn't scared, she just wanted another picture of you. You blame your racing heart on the fact that you just jumped about twenty feet and into what might be dirty laundry. There's a mess of noise and your head is kind of spinning from that and then -

 

"Here I come!" she shouts.

 

You roll over so she won't land on you but still need a moment before you can get back up.

 

She doesn't laugh but she doesn't sound dazed or freaked out when she speaks next. In fact, she sounds more excited than ever as she exclaims, "let's go sell that ticket!" You almost giggle but you still feel vaguely like puking so you don't risk opening your mouth as you clamber out of the bin you've landed in.

 

 

At the concert, she entrusts her camera to AJ instead of you and you can't help but feel a bit offended. She doesn't even say anything when you call after her to tell her you'll be waiting for her by the taco stand. Maybe she's still mad about you saying she was nobody and for her being chased by bad guys and escaping didn't bond you guys enough for that to be forgiven.

 

If she is, that is kind of your fault. More than kind of. That is definitely your fault and you have to apologize to her when she sells the ticket because that was a total jerk thing for you to say, even if you were upset with her.

 

Except you might have to wait longer than you thought to apologize because you're pretty sure Lola is getting arrested now. Your heart plummets from your chest and down below your stomach at the sight. AJ, however, laughs and says she bets Lola will want a picture of this. You're sure she's right but holy shit Lola is getting arrested and you have to save her because her selling the ticket is your fault - you should've been the one selling it or you should've called Professor Anderson and explained everything but you shouldn't have let Lola break the law like that what were you thinking?

 

Before you know it, you're all the police station and you can vaguely hear your surprisingly good attempt at sounding calm as you're asking the lady at the front desk about Lola who is apparently getting booked which, again, is all your fault. You hardly know what's happening aside from the fact that you're repeating your usual mantra to calm yourself until Emily's beanie comes off and you see her hair is green which is just one more thing for you to be stressed out about and responsible for.

 

You think maybe you accidentally take your frustration out on her which you feel bad for but you're going to have to apologize for later because Lola is what matters right now.

 

Two derby teams are brought in and you think AJ is at least meeting her hero which makes you smile just a bit. You're still absolutely terrified for Lola and for yourself and for the kids because you have no idea what to do now.

 

But then Lola is coming out with some - some ugly guy you already hate and you go from complete depression to absolute panic because you've seen documentaries about police brutality and racial profiling and if any of them touched her or even looked at her wrong you are going to kill them because Lola does not deserve that. Nobody does, of course, but least of all Lola.

 

The kids are all hugging her and she's smiling so wide you think her cheeks must hurt but you don't say anything or go to hug her just yet because this feels like their moment. You can worry about her the second they're all done hugging. And worry you do, the second an officer rushes you all out because AJ accidentally started yet another derby fight, your eyes are on her (hands feels like too much, you don't think you should invade her space like that), checking for cuts or bruises or misplaced hairs on her head.

 

"Lola, are you okay? Did they hurt you? Was it scary?" you don't take a single breath and Lola just grins even more at that.

 

"No, I'm totally fine," she says breathily.

 

The thought of her going through that and being fine makes you almost gape at her. "Fine? You just got arrested!" That came out angrier than you meant for it to. You swear you meant to burst into apologies and "I was so scared for you"'s and "thank you for being okay"'s.

 

"It's fine, Jenny," she sounds annoyed now and that only makes the apology in your throat even harder to spit out, "it was no big deal."

 

That tears it. You wish it didn't but it does and now you're saying how you have to call Professor Anderson before it goes any farther (which honestly isn't a bad idea at all and you probably should've done that to start with) and the only sorry issued is to the kids because you have to call their parents now. And then Lola is arguing with you again and she's got that look in her eyes like fire and you can't do anything but fight back. You don't even pause when AJ starts trying to get your attention, you barely even hear her.

 

"Uh, hey, you guys!" It's Bobby this time and you and Lola both shout a little too angrily to ask him what it is.

 

It turns out things are going too far again and AJ is rollerblading away from Tiny and The Scalper. You all immediately try to get the attention of the police which might be the most rational decision of the night. Except they're still trying to break up the fight AJ accidentally started and it doesn't look like they're getting anywhere.

 

Lola is definitely bad luck for you to be around. You're sure of it now.

 

Bad luck who wants to steal Tiny and The Scalper's car. If there was a better way to make sure those guys don't hurt AJ, you definitely wouldn't let her, even with her "it's borrowing" argument. Unfortunately there's not so a second grand theft auto gets added to the list of tonight's crimes.

 

All thoughts of apologizing are out the window when Lola not only steals the car (with your assistance, God) but drives completely recklessly so you throw in a quick, "kids, this is not how a responsible babysitter behaves!" Lola is too worried about AJ to even say something snarky back. She almost hits someone (The Scalper but still someone) except she doesn't and you don't even berate her for it because you're too stressed out about the fact that AJ could break a lot of bones if she's not careful.

 

Lola accidentally butt dials Professor Anderson but she handles it (not great but better than you would have) and then AJ kind of knocks The Scalper on his ass and you're all piling out of the car and going through a door in the back ally, not really caring where it takes you.

 

Once you're far enough inside, she's asking AJ if her camera is okay. Of all things, she cares about her camera. How selfish could someone be? You can't believe you were going to apologize to her.

 

"You're worried about your stupid camera?" you ask, the agitation uncensored in your voice.

 

Hurt flashes across her eyes for a second as she clutches it close to her. "It's not stupid, I won this in my first photography contest - this camera is proof I have talent," she says, her voice softer than you've ever heard it.

 

You dismiss her anyways. Sentimental value means nothing compared to the lives of the kids she's definitely endangered by not just giving those stupid men her stupid camera. It's not until you're onstage and have tripped over a plug that you realize you should've been paying more attention to where you were going than to how annoying Lola is because this is kind of a huge audience and you doubt they'll just let you go without some kind of repayment.

 

It turns out (according to Lola at least, but you don't think she would lie about this - or at least, you hope she wouldn't), they want you to rap. Which you've never done in your entire life. You don't even think you've ever listened to rap. Not anything heavier than a verse or two in a catchy pop song on the radio, at least.

 

Trey hisses that you need to say something and Lola tells you to be creative so you take a very deep, very scared breath and introduce yourself first. The worst that can happen is you fail miserably and they boo you off the stage which is still pretty bad but you've almost died like three different times tonight so it's not as scary as it would normally be to you. Plus Lola definitely had a rap song as one of her ringtones (you have no idea why she felt the need to set different ones for different people but power to her or whatever) so worst case scenario, maybe she could save you.

 

Or is it racist for you to assume she can rap? You don't even know anymore.

 

You get into the beat faster than you'd thought you would and decide to explain what happened, starting with introducing Lola as a real ... witch. You don't want to swear around children, after all. The whole thing flows better than you would have ever expected, especially the bit where you vent about how Lola is ruining your life (you leave the fact that she's entirely too sexually confusing for you out).

 

It's actually really fun. You're starting to see why Lola just lets go so often for sure, this feels great.

 

Over the music and the chanting of the crowd, you vaguely hear Lola and Emily murmuring. Something about "she's really good" and "yeah but she's super white" (which is definitely not false) and then Lola's up in your face, rapping significantly better than you hard (and going for things a lot more personal, but you're pretty sure that's just how Lola is). There's no real venom to it, not like there had been that day you spelled her name Lollah so you let yourself laugh as she completely roasts every aspect of yourself (there's one reference to you being scared to sound gay which you don't even know how she figured out but it's nothing more than that, except Lola definitely just made it sound like maybe she's gay which makes your heart kind of stop).

 

Really, the whole thing is just one big joke at this point as she lets you grab her camera out of her hands and pretend you could ever match what she just put out and wraps an arm around you, laughing that beautiful, beautiful laugh of hers.

 

She even gives a big, goofy smile when you finish the rap with a selfie of you, her, the kids, and pretty much the entire club. You think that means you guys are good now. Or at least, you really hope it does because you would very much like to not fight with her anymore. That thought kind of vanishes when Trey points out Tiny and The Scalper to you and you grab her hand to tug and pull her away.

 

Thankfully, the crowd stops them to hear their story too and you can all pause a moment to laugh about how fun this was. Lola even compliments you. It makes your heart kind of flutter.

 

A couple blocks later, she's still laughing about how proud she is of you as Emily skulks behind all of you miserably. Lola notices before you do and tells you to talk to her, her hand gently resting against your shoulder. Oh crap. You'd totally forgotten about how you yelled at poor Emily in the police station while you were all stressed out.

 

You apologize the best you can and make sure to tell her how wonderful she is - and that if Trey somehow doesn't see that, that's his problem. You leave out the part where you honestly don't understand what she could possibly see in Trey or any boy, really, because that's probably just a you thing. You do, however, tell her that boys are dorks. It's as close as you feel like you can get to "boys are disgusting" or "boys aren't worth liking."

 

And then Emily tells you she kind of called her mom and told her you stole a car and got them all arrested.

 

 

Some plotting and an inspirational quote combined with eye contact that leaves your knees weak later, you're all safely inside the gala and ready to pickpocket your employer. Granted, you did not account for it being an event to honor the woman you need a recommendation letter from, but still. You suppose this is as ready as you'll ever be to steal anything, let alone $100.

 

Bobby ends up working in the kitchen, Trey and Emily are left in charge of AJ, the coat with the $100 needed to get the car ends up back in Mrs. Cooper's possession, and Katy swipes a fur coat and a pair of glittery heels to disguise Lola with so she can go steal the $100. She tops off the disguise with red lipstick, Mrs. Cooper's diamond earrings, and her tiara and - oh. Lola's hair is barely up at all and it's definitely not in a ponytail but ... wow. She almost looks better like this.

 

You can't believe it's humanly possible to be that beautiful. Even when she almost falls flat on her face because of the heels, she looks gorgeous. This, you realize, is definitely not envy. The only thing you envy right now is that coat for getting to be so close to Lola.

 

You don't even pretend not to have realized that as you throw Lola's inspirational quote right back in her face with wide, sparkling eyes. It makes her smile so you think it was definitely the right thing to say.

 

Part of you wonders if she knows what you're thinking about right now but she's gone before you can try and work up the courage to ask.

 

And then Tiny is trying to steal her camera and you really are not about to let him or anyone else take this from Lola because you may have dismissed it when she told you but this stupid camera means the world to her and Lola definitely deserves the world. More than the world, really. It doesn't hurt to start with her camera though, and not letting thugs steal it.

 

Thankfully, the ferret thingy from earlier bites The Scalper and in the confusion, you and Katy manage to get away, find Lola, come collect the remaining kids, and escape without getting caught and, thanks to Lola, with an extra $20 to get to the tow yard. You can't help but grin and congratulate yourselves on what a good team the two of you make. There's something about how soft Lola's smile gets as she echoes your words that makes you pull your phone out for a selfie.

 

Maybe it's just how you're smiling and how pretty Lola is but you think the two of you look really good together. Not really couple-like, of course, but just ... nice. Happy. Like you've known each other forever, like maybe you're best friends. You think being best friends with Lola would be pretty cool, actually.

 

(You might have to remind yourself not to think about kissing her neck every now and then, but aside from that you definitely think you'd like it.)

 

"I can see why that guy asked you to that concert," she grins. And then you remember. Right, of course. You have a crush on Zac Chase and you need to know if it was him that asked you to that concert because he's there with Dominique Cassidy.

 

Even ask you ask for clarity, voice cracking and tears threatening to spill from your eyes, you don't know if you would have said yes if he'd asked you. Babysitting aside, you don't think you could picture yourself there with him. The music would be too loud, the band not even one you like, the crowd way too big, Zac too .... Zac. The thought of being next to anyone but Lola tonight is baffling after everything you've gone through in the past few hours.

 

She hails a taxi to get you to the concert to see him anyway. Says she's making things right and the look in her eyes tells you you couldn't possibly change her mind right now. She's doing this for you.

 

The thought makes you cry a little bit.

 

Lola wipes the tears away with her thumb, whispering how sorry she is for rejecting Zac with your phone and her hand on top of yours. The notion makes you feel as if she lit you on fire but you don't tell her you like this better than you would have ever liked some stupid concert.

 

 

The seven of you reach the concert with maybe eight minutes left in it and no ticket in your hand to get inside. Lola, quick witted as ever, immediately asks the security guard (or whatever he is) what it'll take to get you guys inside.

 

He eyes her for a moment and you feel something inside you hiss. If he says her you think you'll add murder to tonight's list of crimes.

 

Thankfully, he doesn't ask for that. He does, however, ask for her camera. Worse, Lola goes to give it to him.

 

You can't let her do that. Not for you, not after all the terrible things you've done to her. And you tell her that, tell her it means too much to her because you know that camera is her world and eight minutes of a concert and a stupid boy are not worth that. You're not worth that.

 

Lola doesn't agree. She looks at you with soft eyes and says that it's a fair trade even though you both know it isn't. The only way it could ever be a fair trade was if you meant the world to her, and you know you don't. The two of you have only just reached a point where you're friends and there's not a chance in hell ten minutes of your friendship means that much to her.

 

It might mean the world to you but Lola isn't like you. She's had probably a billion friends and the uptight, nerdy blonde girl who spelled her name as Lollah and called her a nobody couldn't possibly mean all that much to her.

 

That doesn't stop her from trading her camera for you though.

 

Once you're inside, Katy and Lola rush you to the bathroom so they can make you look less ... you. Katy instructs, telling Lola to give you some of her many, many rings after putting lipstick on you. Lola pulls your coat and sweater off without even having be told though. Somehow, it leaves you feeling even warmer than you had with them on. You try not to think too much about that, especially when Lola goes to her knees to tie your flannel and your heart kind of stops.

 

Then your hair is down and Lola is smiling at you like she smiles at her photography and you feel kind of like art. Until she pushes you to the door the concert is behind, at least. You'd almost forgotten this was all happening so you could get the boy you might not even want.

 

The concert ends though, apparently you wasted all the time you had getting made over. Part of you is relieved but you still ask them what you do now.

 

Naturally, they tell you to go in and get the boy anyway. It's humiliating and not at all what you want but you do it anyway. It's like your body is on autopilot and you're just watching yourself shout for Zac Chase and get up on a stage and find him and - you don't even know what you say to him but apparently it kind of works.

 

 

In all honesty, you have no idea how you actually end up at the tow yard. You think Zac drove after you (or Lola? Someone did) explained this mess of a night to him. You think Lola sat in the back while you sat shotgun but kept her hand on your knee the entire drive anyway. You think Zac didn't notice the way you held your hand over hers. You think Bobby did though because he gave you a look like he knew something you didn't.

 

Try not to think about it. Now isn't the time anyway, seeing as the not so nice lady who towed Professor Anderson's car is locking up. Is it midnight already? You and Lola both yell out and run to her.

 

She complains about her night and how you shouldn't mess with her right now. It kind of makes you snap.

 

"You've had a rough night?" you seethe, teeth barred.

 

She's not even fazed by the anger in your voice as she goes to shut the gate once more. "Yeah, so don't mess with Trixie," she scoffs.

 

Catching the gate, you shove it open. "Don't mess with the babysitter!" This time, she takes you seriously and takes the $100. You're all back in Professor Anderson's car in no time at all, this time Lola rushes to the driver seat.

 

She grabs the keys from your pocket with a wink as Zac gets in his car. "This time I'm driving, and we're listening to my girls Fifth Harmony," she grins toothily.

 

AJ and Bobby both let out an excited whoop and Emily tries to hide a smile.

 

"Okay since we have Harmonizers in the car, do you guys wanna start with Juntos or Reflection - don't worry, Jen, they're both PG," she says.

 

"The song or the album?" Bobby asks at the same that Emily is too quick to vote for Reflection.

 

Lola pauses for a moment, like she's thinking, "the song, if we listened to all of Reflection we'd have to skip a bunch of songs or Jenny would tell on us." Her bottom lip sticks out in a mock pout at that last bit and you can't help but laugh. "Hook my phone up to the car."

 

You do as your told, and find the song quickly but not without letting Lola know you've only heard one Fifth Harmony song and it was not PG at all. You leave out the part where your face was red for ten minutes after hearing it at the mall. Judging by the look on Lola's face, she guesses the last bit anyway.

 

And then she's singing along and dancing as well as one can dance while seated in a car. "I must confess," AJ, Bobby, and Emily are all singing with her but you can definitely hear her voice the clearest. It's as nice as her speaking voice which is totally unfair. "You looking fresh," she winks straight at you and your face goes red.

 

"Eyes on the road!" you yelp, trying to keep some dignity.

 

The next ten minutes pass like this: Lola and (most of) the kids sing along, Trey pretends not to know the words, everyone but AJ, Bobby, and Lola who apparently both are fluent pretend to speak good enough Spanish to sing along to Juntos, Lola flirts (???) with you through song, and you blush furiously about Lola possibly flirting with you and hope you aren't imagining it. You don't even really think about the fact that that would definitely make you gay because, honestly, at this point you're pretty sure you might be.

 

(Okay, you are. You totally, completely are and you're going to have to explain that to Zac because he's being so cool about everything and he's so nice.)

 

Then Lola's phone rings, interrupting the jam session.

 

"Who is it?" she asks,for once keeping her eyes on the road.

 

"Uh," you check the screen, squinting a bit, "your mom."

 

Her face goes pale. "Oh, shit," she hisses. You reprimand her for her language but she doesn't even acknowledge it. "Uh, answer it - not on speaker phone, just tell her I'm driving right now."

 

So you do. But before you can even say a "hello," Lola's mother is yelling so loud the whole car can hear her. "Lola Karla Perez Zendegi!" she exclaims (AJ, Trey, and Emily snicker slightly at the use of her full name), "where have you been? Do you know what time it is - and don't you dare dude me!"

 

"Um ... I think you should talk to her," you all but whimper, pulling the phone down from your ear and putting it on speaker.

 

"Lola? Who was that? Who are you with? Was that - " a small gasp, "oh, hija, did you get a girlfriend?"

 

For the first time (that you've seen at least), Lola's face turns a bright shade of pink. "Mom! No! I'm with my friend, Jenny - " her mother lets out a hum that sounds more than slightly disbelieving " - I can't talk right now, I'm driving but I'll explain when I get back, okay?"

 

Her mother sighs dramatically, "hija, you know - your stepfather may have some ... issues with your sexuality but you don't have to lie to me. It's alright if you're with your girlfriend, I still love you the same as I did when you went out with those stupid boys - dios mío, Lola, your taste in women better not be the same as in men."

 

Lola is practically squirming in her seat now. She looks ready to be put out of her misery so, deciding that it would be better to end this quickly than prolong the suffering with further denial, you pipe up, "um, no, I'm nothing like her - her ex boyfriends. I would love to get to know you, ma'am, but we really do have to go. It was nice talking to you though!" With that, you hang up quickly.

 

The look Lola gives you is somewhere between grateful and bewildered so you shrug, face made up like a deer caught in headlights.

 

Trey is the first to speak once the album resumes. Says, "no wonder you won't go out with me" with the biggest grin on his face. You think maybe he understands and it feels like a weight was lifted off your chest - until the other kids are all laughing, at least. Then you realize it was a joke and that nobody understands because you've spent so long pretending it's not true.

 

Once the laughter settles down, you clear your throat nervously, fidgeting with Lola's phone in your lap. "So," you start, "you're ... gay."

 

"Incredibly so. Why? That a problem?" Lola's voice is guarded, her grip on the steering wheel tight.

 

You blanch at that, "n - no. Of course not, I mean, it's 2016 and - um. Sorry. I'm just ... I thought you ... liked boys."

 

"Funny," Lola sneers with no venom, "I used to think that too. But I thought I made my sexuality kind of clear tonight. Even if I did kind of flirt with that cop - I thought it was obvious I just wanted out of jail though." She seems almost amused, like you're totally missing something, but you have no idea what that is.

 

Unless - "oh, the rap battle ... yeah, I guess you did."

 

Lola cocks an eyebrow as she stares at you for a moment. You feel too vulnerable and exposed under her gaze to even tell her to look at the road. What is it you're missing? Judging by the faces of the kids, they all get it. Are you really the only one who doesn't?

 

 

You all arrive at the Andersons' safely and before the parents and then split up to clean the mess Lola made before you take Katy and Emily (whose hair is no longer green and who no longer has henna on her arm) back to the Coopers' with Zac. You're sure to hug Lola goodbye before and tell her you'll call her tomorrow though. You want to be her friend now, you definitely want that. And maybe a little more.

 

But if Lola's blatant lack of feelings for you didn't already seal the deal on you two only ever being friends, you do once you're at the Coopers'. Instead of explaining to Zac that you're gay gay (lesbian feels like too much for you to handle seeing as it's taken you 17 years to even admit to being gay - but you are, you definitely are) and apologizing and thanking him for everything, you completely choke and ask him out.

 

Even worse, he says yes.

 

 

The next day, you make the selfie you took of you and Lola your phone's background and buy a coat definitely too big for you but just about Lola's size. You call her and completely lie, tell her that something you ordered online finally came and it's way too big for you but hey, maybe it'll fit her. If she knows you bought it just for her, she doesn't say anything when she swings by your house to pick it up.

 

She also doesn't say anything about Zac, but she does tell you that she's been roped into a date with the police officer she flirted with and asks how you think she can completely ruin it.

 

The truth is, you don't think Lola could ever make a date unpleasant. You don't say that though, instead you invite her inside and the two of you plot together. She sits on your bed with her legs on top of yours and her tied up. The sight makes your heart hurt and you find yourself only able to sneak glances at her because she's so beautiful - it's completely unfair.

 

After an hour, a stomach rumbles. It's yours, because you hadn't eaten breakfast this morning like a moron. An embarrassed and sheepish smile slides across your lips but Lola just laughs. The sound is still beautiful, just like her.

 

"Sounds like someone could use some pizza, I'll order," she chirps. Then she pauses a moment, "unless you're not okay with that and I'm overstepping some boundaries." There's something like fear in her eyes which you think definitely doesn't suit her.

 

You shake your head no, of course. Say, "you're totally not, pizza sounds great. Do you want me to pay?" Lola makes a face like she feels terrible about saying yes but you very clearly remember her lying to get a job babysitting because she was in desperate need of cash so you add, "it's totally fine. Seriously, don't feel bad, I have like tons of money from babysitting that normal people would've spent on like, going to the movies or something."

 

"You are normal, Jen," she whispers, "I know I made fun of you but ... you're not weird. Okay? And, um, thanks for this. Next time it's my treat, got it?"

 

She looks so tender right now, eyes all soft and her usual smirk gone from her face. You can't help it. You don't kiss her because you're not crazy but you do snap a picture of her with your phone. Call it taking a page out of her book.

 

Lola laughs when she realizes why you took a picture and tosses a pillow at you. You wish you could stay in this moment forever. Then you decide that once she leaves, you're going to withdraw your entry for the internship. She definitely deserves it more than you. Plus you're pretty sure it's the least you can do. Lola traded her camera for you, you can trade an internship for her.

 

Not that you don't think she would have won anyway.

 

 

After you end things with Zac, Lola gets the internship, and Professor Anderson sees the photos proving that you guys did a lot more than just get ice cream, you spend a lot of time with Lola. Instead of stressing out about early admission (because Lola was definitely right, that is not fun and you deserve to have some time to just let loose), you take to helping Lola prepare her own college application.

 

It's kind of short notice and Lola's grades aren't the best (they're not the worst either, really, she's more just an average but highly intelligent student who gets easily distracted because, as it turns out, she has ADHD) but you advise her to start with a year at community college and then transfer to an art school once her GPA is up. It's completely doable and, as you assure her, it doesn't make her stupid or in any way less than.

 

After Lola's college issues are sorted, the two of you spend all your efforts on Professor Anderson, in hopes that she'll still write your recommendation letter. It turns out though that Trey, Bobby, and AJ have all been explaining away that night and justifying both of your actions since she saw the pictures so, while Lola is definitely never babysitting for the Andersons again, you're still welcome to. Just not at night.

 

You do note that your recommendation letter is not as impressive as you think it would have been before that night. Oddly enough, you aren't even that upset about it.

 

Meaning you almost had a panic attack about it but Lola held your hand and told you it was still a great letter of recommendation and that you're still totally, overwhelmingly impressive to any college, regardless of the stupid letter. She seems to be doing that a lot lately. Both the hand holding and the calming you down.

 

It definitely makes you happy.

 

 

It takes until February for you to do something about it. By now, your feelings are definitely stronger than just a crush. You still can't fully look at her when her hair is tied up because she's like a goddess, but you don't just get butterflies and defensive about her now. You love things about her, love pretty much everything about her and even find the things you don't love (like the way she's willing to eat food off the floor and basically bullies you about your low tolerance for spice) absolutely endearing.

 

Not to mention that you try to fight everyone who says anything bad about her at all. She's had to pick you up to stop you from going after three different people now.

 

You feel weird saying you love her but you do care super, super, insanely deeply for her and would rather die than let anything bad at all happen to her. (So, yeah, you definitely love her. You're probably in love with her at this point. You've got it bad.) You've kept it under wraps since the two of you officially met in November though so you're pretty sure you can keep this a secret until your feelings go away. Except, you think you've kind of had feelings for her since the day you saw her so that means you've been stuck on this girl for over three years.

 

And you kind of want to kiss her all the time, especially when she wears her hair up like she's doing right now.

 

It probably doesn't help that Lola is smiling right at you. God, even just the sight of her smiling makes you blush. You're a mess, Jenny, you groan internally, who gets this flustered about a girl smiling? 

 

Lola, of course, picks that moment to snap a picture of you with her (brand new and very improved) camera. (You'd tried to track down the security guy to get her old camera back but you've had no such luck yet, unfortunately.) She smiles adoringly at the result and looks up with just her eyes to say, "you know, Jen, you're actually pretty cute when you're flustered."

 

"So I'm not always cute?" You want to hit yourself the second you say it because that sounded way too much like flirting and you're like 99.9999% sure Lola does not see you that way. Like, not even a little.

 

Instead of making fun of you for flirting with her though, Lola grins toothily at that. "Normally I'd say you're more ... " she pauses for dramatic effect as she sets her camera down on your coffee table, "drop dead gorgeous."

 

Your face turns an even darker shade of red at that before you remind yourself that this is Lola. Lola who flirts with everyone. Lola who, seriously, shamelessly flirted with the concession's stand guy at the movie theater when she doesn't even like boys. She definitely doesn't mean it like that.

 

Except she's kind of biting her lip and looking even more like a goddess than normal and - oh no. Oh no. You're kissing her. Your mouth is on her mouth and her lips are really soft and you're kissing her. Except not quite kissing, it's more your mouth is on hers super chastely because you're a moron who can't even kiss right.

 

You pull away quickly, your face burning up more than you thought was possible (and Lola has made you blush really hard so that's saying something.)

 

"Did you just ..." she trails off, for once at a loss for words, "but - um. Whoa."

 

"I know," you manage. "Um - I'm - yeah, sorry about that, I totally read that wrong and should not have done that, like at all. It was super inappropriate and if you never wanna talk to me again, that's cool."

 

At that, Lola looks at you like you've grown a second head. "Who said that? I'm just ... surprised .... dude," she clears her throat nervously, "um ... I just - I thought you weren't .... interested in me ... and that maybe this - I mean, us would be weird because of the age difference." You've never seen Lola so shell shocked and so red.

 

"So you're interested in me?" you squeak out.

 

Lola nods furiously, like she's completely humiliated by this whole thing.

 

"And, um ... you didn't make a move because of the age gap?"

 

Lola nods again.

 

"Y'know, um, it's not - you're not that much older than me. Like, you're not even a full two years older, actually. My birthday is August and yours is October, I mean. I know it might feel kind of weird because I skipped a grade but, um, my parents had me do preppy kindergarten as well as, um, regular kindergarten so I'm still 17. I don't think, um, that we would be ... weird," you're definitely rambling now.

 

This time, Lola doesn't nod (that wouldn't make any sense, anyway). She clears her throat once more. Says, "yeah but ... I - when I was 17, I was really dumb and way too young to date a 19 year old so like ... I dunno, it just felt weird knowing I felt this way about you."

 

You laugh a little at that, "I'm not you, Lola. I'm at a different place than you were when you were 17. And I'm almost 18. I think I'm old enough that this, that we aren't weird together."

 

She cocks her head at that, like she's contemplating your words. You kiss her, again. Not on accident this time, and you remember how kissing actually works (according to everything you've ever read, at least). She stumbles back a bit before her hands find your waist and she melts into the kiss.

 

Her forehead rests against yours when she pulls away, her hands not leaving your waist and yours not leaving her shoulders. For a moment, the two of you just breathe. You don't know about her, but you try to memorize this moment. Your first real kiss. The warmth of her lips. The feeling of her hands molded to your waist. The smell of strawberry-banana smoothie on her breath. Lola.

 

You could get used to this.

 

She breaks your concentration, her voice a whisper. "Okay ... but - but no sex, or anything. Not until you're ready. And you have to tell me if I do or say anything that makes you uncomfortable, okay, Jen?"

 

Your face goes red at that but you answer anyway, "right ... no - no intercourse. That won't be a problem. And, um, I will."

 

An endearing laugh escapes her lips at that. Her fingers squeeze your waist lightly, playfully. She nuzzles her nose to yours tenderly. Says, "yeah, no intercourse, Parker. Mm, maybe I should wear my hair up less often, make that easier for you."

 

"You knew?" you whisper yell.

 

Lola laughs again, less endearing, more amused. "Mhm, you were pretty obvious, especially that first time," she murmurs, "I didn't know that you actually had feelings for me though. I figured you just like got off to the thought of me with my hair up or something." Like she can sense how humiliated you feel, she changes the topic, "you know, it's a good thing you basically just begged me to be your girlfriend. My mom still thinks we're dating and she kind of wants to meet you."

 

This time, you laugh. "I think I'd like that," you whisper.

 

"I think you like me, Jenny Parker," she grins, "don't worry though, I think I like you too, girlfriend." She practically purrs the nickname and you can't help but remember the first time she'd called you that, how angrily you had denied it in fear of the kids finding out you're gay. The thought makes you giggle.

 

"Well I'd hope my girlfriend likes me."

 

Girlfriend.

 

You could definitely get used to that.