Lex and Lu(7)

By: J. Santiago

Her mom and dad had begun building their house next to the Pellitteris’ when Lu was five. So when they moved in after almost a year of construction, eight-year-old Lex and six-year-old Pete were a little upset that their construction site /playground was no longer available. They already knew all the ways into the house and were not shy about expressing their displeasure over their neighbors being girls. When Dr. J. showed up at their door with a store-bought cake (she never baked), a vintage bottle of wine, and her two sullen children, Lu and Willa were left with the task of entertaining them while their mothers drank wine—a scenario that would play itself out, over and over, throughout the next ten years.

It was at this meeting that Lex had dubbed Louisa May Knight “Lu,” a nickname that she would never escape. After being introduced, Lex and Pete followed the girls upstairs into their very pink and purple playroom.

“Why do you have such funny names?” Lex asked.

“You have a funny name too,” Louisa shot back. “And they’re not weird. We were named after famous authors.”

“That’s weird,” smirked Lex.

“My mom’s an English professor,” Willa offered. “We’re named after Louisa May Alcott and Willa Cather.”

“Well, those are old-lady names. I’m just gonna call you Will and Lu,” Lex announced.

“You have a stupid name,” Lu returned.

Willa pushed her slightly and whispered loudly, “You’re not supposed to say ‘stupid.’”

“Well it is. Why is your name Lex?”

He moved his head toward Pete, “’Cause he couldn’t say ‘Alex’ when he was little. He could only ever get out ‘Lex.’ Doesn’t matter. It’s just a name. And no one else has it.”

“Well, no one has the names Louisa and Willa either.”

“Trust me,” Lex retorted, “some old ladies have those names.” Willa couldn’t help herself. She laughed. But Lu didn’t think it was funny at all.

“Don’t you ever smile?” Lex asked her.

“My mom says she has an old soul and she’s much too serious for a six-year-old,” Willa informed them.

“Looks like your mom is right,” Lex concurred.

Lu, who may have had an old soul, also had a quick temper. Without letting anyone see what she was doing, she went over to their easel, which was set in the back of the room, and picked up a bottle of blue paint. She walked behind Lex, stood on her tiptoes, and poured the paint over his head and onto his favorite soccer jersey.

Willa and Pete cracked up. Lex, sputtering more from surprise than anything else, turned and ran downstairs. Willa, Pete, and Lu followed, racing down the steps. To Amber and Jo, who were almost done with the wine, it sounded like a herd of elephants was coming toward them.

“Uh, oh,” murmured Amber.

“Mom,” Lex said, “look at my jersey!”

“What happened?”

Lex opened his mouth to tell his mom what the little jerk had done. But before he could say anything, he caught sight of her. She stood with her hands on her hips, looking mad, but with tears unshed in her big, blue eyes. And he couldn’t do it. “I was messing around by the easel and the paint fell over.”

Pete and Willa’s eyes got wide and Lu turned and ran up the stairs.

“Alexander James Pellitteri. You need to march upstairs and clean up the mess right now. Then get home and into your room.” Jo’s voice rang out in the kitchen. No one really wanted to mess with Dr. J.

Amber, who had been watching her children, knew that there was something wrong with the story. Those paints were always secured, tops tightened. But before she could get to the bottom of it, Lex, Pete, and Willa ran back upstairs.

“Wow,” Willa said. “Why didn’t you tell?”

“Ah, I probably deserved it,” he said with a devilish smile.

There wasn’t much to clean up and Lu had hidden herself away so she didn’t have to face Lex. But he had sealed their fate that evening. Lu, who had been saved from a spanking and probably a very public apology, swore to never do anything bad to Lex Pellitteri. And Lex discovered that he was a sucker for big blue eyes.

Lu pulled herself back to the present. Grabbing the two mugs, she headed back out to the deck. Sitting down across from Jo again, she handed her a mug. Jo took a sip gratefully.

Neither of them spoke for a few minutes, savoring their last few moments of perfect harmony. Then Jo reached out and grabbed Lu’s hand.

“Louisa May, I think it’s time.”

Lu met her gaze. And although she had been prepared for this moment, she still felt stripped bare. She knew Jo wasn’t done with what she had to say, so she held her tongue.

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