Lolly swiped at a lone tear as she walked across the front porch of Sinbad Rotter. She couldn’t believe this could be the last time she ever saw the man.
In the last two years, Sinbad had tutored Lolly in the sciences – first chemistry, then physics, now astronomy. She had improved drastically, but she continued to play dumb just to spend time with the man. Now she was a senior and taking AP science courses, and it was all thanks to Sinbad’s different but effective teaching methods. He worked with her every day after school, sometimes hours at a time, and he would make her walk through the steps. Even when her assignments didn’t call for a project or experiment, he would make her do one just so she would learn more.
She would always order way too much food from the diner, knowing he had a tight budget. He would always scowl and say he wasn’t hungry, but a half-hour in, she would catch him swiping fries. He would usually grumble about it, but eventually would cave and eat a hamburger or hot dog or whatever else Lolly brought that day. She would always leave the leftovers.
She learned his favorite science was chemistry followed by botany, and his least favorite was psychology. Lolly didn’t pry but Goodwin told her his father had been a psychiatrist before taking his own life, and his mother was a writer of some kind who joined the Si’brid Free Love Movement and had tragically died.
Sometimes he’d let her hang out with him on her days off from school, and they’d watch Simspani soap operas. She liked brushing up on her Simspani, and he just liked to veg. They would order Mexsimican food from the local grocer. She learned his favorite food was tamales. Sinbad would add extra salt to his chips and salsa.
Once she caught him reading ‘The Goodwhichs of Oz,’ and after that, she would purchase fantasy books off the Internet and slip them into his mailbox. She recalled how he complained that he had somehow been signed up for a book club subscription, but when he called to cancel, they said they couldn’t because he wasn’t the primary name on the account. He howled curses at them, but continued accepting the free books. Lolly took a secret satisfaction when she saw him reading one of the books she ordered.
In the winters, when the snow was above her boots, she would call him to come pick her up from school. She thoroughly enjoyed riding in his wheels – his black truck with flames imprinted on the sides. Sometimes they’d go catch a comedy at the theater, and occasionally he’d convince her to see a horror film. She’d usually say yes just so she could squeeze his hand extra hard and bury her head in his shoulder. He would smile smugly and continue enjoying his popcorn.
Recently, when explaining how the cosmos worked, Sinbad used dance metaphors and she probed him until he confessed he could dance. She assumed hip-hop or something, but he admitted he learned ballroom from his Eastern Union grandmother. His favorite style was the Patenentine Tango for Sao Paten.
In the last two years, Goodwin’s lover, Beverly had moved in with them. She mothered the men, which Goodwin enjoyed, but Sinbad was thoroughly disgusted. The woman was twice their age. She reverted to her maiden name, Pitts, and named their son, Apple, which Sinbad and Lolly snickered about for days. The poor kiddo!
Beverly fought her husband in court over financials and custody rights for twenty-five months before they came to a settlement. Officially divorced, Beverly could now marry Goodwin if she wanted and she was moving the couple and their kid to her dead aunt’s estate in New Simoleans. She was also pregnant again.
Because his roommate was moving, Sinbad couldn’t pay the rent on their house in Twinbrook anymore. He had decided to sell his truck and most of his furniture, putting the rest in temporary storage, and travel the country on his motorcycle. Lolly was devastated.
While he had been her tutor, Sinbad had become much more to her. She couldn’t explain the emotions that stirred within her when she was near him – sadness and confusion, warmth and peace, and a strange, but wondrous happiness. This morning when she woke up, she knew she was in love.
“What are you doing here, kiddo?” Sinbad asked as he opened the sliding glass door.
Lolly gulped and frowned. She hated the nickname.
“I saw Goodwin at the grocery store and he said you were still home.”
“Yeah, not leaving till tomorrow. Got to wait for the movers to come and take the rest of their furniture. Can you believe that? Bev and her fruity son and that no-good roomie of mine stuck me with the job of babysitting their shit.”
Lolly crossed her arms and shivered.
“Do you wanna come in?” he asked gruffly.
“What are you doing?” he asked as she opened the refrigerator and set a few ingredients out on the mostly empty countertop.
“Are you hungry?” she asked without looking up. “Goodwin said we could help ourselves to whatever food they left behind.”
“No I’m not…” Sinbad snipped.
“Well did you eat breakfast?” she inquired as she poured flour into a bowl and cracked an egg.
“I never eat breakfast.”
“Then you’re hungry.”
“No… I’m fixing you breakfast.”
She heard him slam the door to his bedroom and turn on his stereo – death metal rock. Ironically, Sinbad had taught her how to study through any interruption with that music. A small smile played on her lips as she continued to stir her pancake batter. His tricks to get rid of her wouldn’t work. She knew and had adapted to his secrets. She had grown to enjoy the cacophony.
Twenty minutes later, she stood over the stove, wondering what she did wrong.
“What’s wrong, Lolls?” Sinbad asked, wandering back into the kitchen.
“I burnt the batter,” she admitted sorrowfully.
“It’s cool. Wasn’t hungry anyway,” he said nonchalantly.
Lolly slammed the frying pan onto the counter, surprising her friend. “No. You need breakfast. And I ruined it. I can’t believe I did that. I don’t know what I did.” She ran a flour-coated hand through her hair absently, leaving a light dusting. “I followed the recipe to the letter. I swear.”
“Lolly… what’s really wrong?” he probed. “And it isn’t the damn pancakes.”
Lolly gripped the edge of the counter and bit back the tears threatening to swim down her face. She didn’t want Sinbad to see her like this. She just didn’t know how to say goodbye to a man who had grown to become everything for her. Finally turning to face him, she spoke the words hurriedly as she forced herself to make eye contact.
“I love you.”
His eyes widened and his lips parted, but no words came out. Lolly’s countenance fell, crushed that he didn’t feel the same way. She couldn’t believe she had been stupid enough to say the words aloud. Pushing past him, she bolted out the front door and behind the house to stand on the grassy bank and look out across the Simislaus creek. Her lower lip wobbled and she let the tears fall freely.
After a few minutes, she heard Sinbad’s sneakers squishing on the wet grass behind her.
“Hey kiddo,” he said in a tone she rarely heard.
“Don’t…” she grunted. “Don’t call me that. I hate it. I’m not a kid. I’m practically a woman.”
“Lolly,” he replied, gently. “Why did you have to go and fall for me?”
“Because… you’re so… so… lovable…” she said with a shuddering sob.
He chuckled. “That’s a reasonable response I guess.”
She whirled. “Don’t make fun of me, Sinbad. I say I love you and you’re joking around. How do you really feel?”
He sobered. “Lolly, you’re just a kid. You’re only seventeen.”
“So? You’re only twenty-one. That’s not that much older than me,” she protested.
“Lolly, I just don’t feel that way about you,” he took her hand in his without making eye contact. “I can’t… you can find someone your own age.”
“I want you, Sinbad,” she cried.
“I know you do, kid, but you’re on track to graduate and go off to a fancy college and you’ll meet a great guy who’s got everything you need,” Sinbad responded.
“Don’t say that…” she rushed forward and dropped into his arms, squeezing him as tightly as she could. “You’re everything I need.”
His tattooed arms came up and around her, accepting her embrace. She dropped her head into his shoulder and cried. She didn’t even care if she was smudging her makeup. She wanted him. She needed him. Why didn’t he want her?
“Shouldn’t you be heading to school?” he asked.
“Don’t change the subject,” she said, muffled into his shirt.
“Lolly… I…” she could tell he was searching for the words. “Dammit… girl… you’re getting me wet.”
“I don’t care,” she sobbed.
“I do…” he pulled back, frustration evident on his face.
She stumbled back a step or two, and stared up at him. “I don’t want you to go.”
“I can’t stay.”
“Yes, you can. I can help you find a place. We could move in together. I’d help with the rent. I’ve got plenty of money.”
Anger flashed briefly in his eyes. “That’s a shitty reason. Besides your dad would cut you off if you moved in with me.”
“But you work together?” she protested.
“I’m not dating his daughter,” he stated.
“He won’t cut me off,” she hiked her chin in the air. “Besides I’m almost an adult. I can get a job. I can make my own money.”
“Damnit. Did you hear me? I’m not moving in with you. I don’t need your charity.”
“But Sinbad, I love you.”
“No you don’t… you just think you do. I knew it was stupid to spend so much time with you.”
She started crying again as she walked away, facing the water once more.
“You won’t even miss me when I’m gone.”
“Yes I will.”
“No, you’ll meet someone else and you’ll forget all about me.”
“How could I forget you, Sinbad? I love you.”
He laid a hand on her shoulder. “Stop saying that.”
“I can’t. It’s how I feel.”
“Well, now you know how I feel.”
“You’ll change your mind.”
“No I won’t.”
“You’ll come back.”
“No I won’t.”
“I’ll wait for you.”
“Lolly… damnit… no you won’t.”
“Yes, yes, yes, I will. Don’t you see, Sinbad? I want to be with you. Why can’t I get that through your thick skull?”
“Who’s got a thick skull?”
“So what? We’re both stubborn. Is it because I’m not pretty enough?”
“Or because I don’t have tattoos or piercings like that girl Cat you work with? She’s only a year older than me.”
“I’m not into Cat.”
“Or is it because you work with my dad? Or because I’m not bad enough?”
“Lolly… stop it! You are fine. I don’t want to be with you. I don’t feel the same way you do, and I’m not changing my mind or coming back for you someday. Now kid, you need to get yourself together and realize what you’re saying. And you should go to school.”
“I don’t want to go to school. Come with me.”
“Then will you promise to let me go?”
Lolly caught her breath, and thought through what he was saying and implying. He didn’t love her. He wasn’t staying. Something was wrong with her. There had to be. Maybe if she spent more time with him she could convince him otherwise.
“Sure,” she lied.