Two months after our marriage and annulment, I brought him over to meet my dad, Greg. That night, sometime over barbecued chicken and a bag of chips with salsa—and while I was off in the backyard trying to capture the sunset with oils—Oliver heard the rest of my story.
Dad came home from his third tour in Afghanistan when I was twelve, and he was a complete mess: he went from being a celebrated triage nurse to being an honorably discharged veteran, unable to sleep and hiding OxyContin in the kitchen. Mom couldn’t even take a month of it before she left in the middle of the night without anything as formal as a goodbye. To either of us.
I tried to pick up Dad’s pieces, Dad tried to pick up my pieces, and we muddled through for a few years until we realized we each had to carry our own pieces. It wasn’t good, but it got better, and my relationship with my father is one of the most cherished things I’ll ever have. I tell him nearly every thought I have, no matter how small. It’s what allows me to keep them mostly inside the rest of the time. I’d rather lose the sun than him.
I never knew exactly what Dad said to Oliver, but after that night, instead of ever asking about it, Oliver just folded it into the Lola Canon and let it be. Little details would come out in conversation—the shorthand that so far I’ve only ever had with Harlow and Mia—showing me that he knew more than I’d ever told him.
Mia and Harlow had been in my life when it all happened, so I’d never had to download it all in one sitting. But if there was ever anyone else I wanted to know me that well, it was Oliver. After a few beers almost a month ago, I’d finally asked him, “So how much of my origin story did my dad tell you?”
He’d stilled mid-sip with his beer bottle touching his lips, and then slowly set it down. “He told me his version. From when you were small, until now.”
“Do you want to hear mine?”
Oliver turned to me, and he nodded. “ ’Course I do. Someday. Whenever and however it comes out.”
I’d almost kissed him that night, nearly been brave enough. Because when I told him that I wanted to hear his story, too, he’d looked so grateful, so full of what on my face would mean love, that it was the first and only time I’d thought maybe he was in just as deep as I was. And I had to ruin it by looking back down at the table.
When I looked up again, the poker face was firmly in place and he’d changed the subject.
I’m thinking about all of this now, watching him sleep. I’m also wishing he would wake up so I can grind some coffee beans. But my phone does the job as it starts barking at top volume on the counter: Benny’s trademark ring.
“Hello?” I answer as fast as I can, nearly dropping my phone.
Oliver bolts upright at the sound, looking around wildly. I wave my hand from the kitchen until he sees me and then relaxes. He wipes his face and looks at me in this bare, tender way.
It’s the same way he looked at me that night a month ago in the bar. His lips part a little, eyes narrowed so he can see me without the benefit of his glasses. His smile is the sun coming out from behind a cloud. “Hey,” he says, voice raspy and broken a little from sleep.
“Lola, it’s Benny.” Benny’s voice rips through the phone. “I’ve got Angela on the line.”
“Oh?” I murmur, stuck on Oliver’s face. As I watch, it transitions from relieved and happy to a little confused as he looks around the room.
He sits up and props his elbows on his thighs, putting his head in his hands, groaning, “Fuck. My head.”
Harlow once said the way someone looks at you when you’re the first person they see in the morning is the best way to gauge how they feel. I blink down to the counter and drag my nail between two tiles to keep from trying to interpret Oliver’s early morning expressions.
“It’s early, sorry for that,” Angela says. “You okay?”
“I’m pre-coffee,” I admit. “I’m not much of anything yet.”
Oliver looks up and laughs from the couch and Angela laughs less genuinely across the line. I put it on speakerphone so he can hear.
“Well,” Angela continues, “yesterday was a big day, and the press release goes out today.”
“Do you need anything from me?” I ask.
“Nothing, except for you to be prepared,” she says. “I don’t need you to answer any questions today. That’s our job. We can send over some social media copy to use for later. We’ll set up some interviews. What I need from you now is to be aware of what this means.”
Oliver watches me from the living room, eyes theatrically wide.
“Okay . . . ?” I say, smiling only because I’m so grateful he’s here and getting this all firsthand. Angela sounds pretty fucking serious right now. I feel like I need a witness.
Oliver looks playfully scandalized and I stifle a giggle. The book has already been in the top three for graphic novels on the New York Times list for the past ten weeks and my life hasn’t changed much at all, save more travel for signings and a few conventions. Clearly we both seriously doubt our neighborhood is going to become paparazzi ground zero.
“Maybe photographed and followed,” Angela continues. “It means you’ll be asked the same question a hundred times and will need to seem to answer it for the first time every single time it’s asked. It means you can’t control what’s written about you. Is this all clear?”