Was it only nerves, or was it more? With Lola I can’t tell. She looks at me in a way she doesn’t look at anyone else, but that could be meaningful only because I am her closest male friend, and have carefully, intentionally cultivated her trust. Trust is key with Lola. She closes down if she feels inspected, clams up if pushed.
But it’s a delicate, slow process and unfortunately, I want sex, and—maybe more specifically—the intimacy that comes along with it. The truth is that if I can’t have these things with Lola, I really should let myself find them with someone else. These are the moments that Finn and Ansel’s lectures echo in my ears and I wonder if maybe I should take their advice: keep some of the numbers I’m given at the store—fangirls, as Lola calls them—or say yes when I’m asked out for coffee . . . or even flat-out propositioned for a quick fuck in the storeroom.
My phone buzzes with a familiar tone, and I reach for it across the counter.
Nothing out of the ordinary, but my heart trips into thunder. Sure, I type. Where?
I have a really long day ahead of me, can we just hang at your place?
I start to type a simple Sure, when more words from her pop up: My brain needs more Oliver time.
Lola’s apartment is sometimes full of chaos. London blasts music when she’s home, Harlow is over most of the time Finn is out of town, and she’s more explosive weather event than she is woman. Add Ansel and Mia to the mix and I’m surprised the police have never been called. In addition to our more obvious similarities, Lola also needs a good deal of quiet time. Not just to work, but to breathe. It’s one of the reasons we got along so well initially and why we still spend so much time together outside the group.
But we don’t usually do it at my place, alone, where I have no roommate or neighbors on the other side of the wall. We have on occasion, sure, but not after I stroked her hair in the bar and spent the night on her couch. Not after she’s sketched me and my dick.
I’m a bubbling mix of unsure and electrified when I hit send on my end, Sure.
I’M ON THE patio basting the ribs on the barbecue when I hear Lola’s voice carry down the hall.
The front door closes. There’s the sound of her shoes hitting the floor as she kicks them off just inside, bare feet making their way across the room, and the ring of keys as she hangs them on the kitchen hook next to mine.
It’s such a domestic habit, and I’m unprepared for the strange sensation that rolls through my stomach. With a nervous glance toward the house, I close the barbie through a cloud of charcoal-scented smoke and try to remind myself that I’m Lola’s friend. Nothing has changed, not really.
When I step inside, she looks up at the sound of the screen door and smiles. “Brought some stuff,” she says, and nods to a pile of grocery sacks covering the counter.
“You didn’t have to do that,” I tell her, closing the door with a wave behind me. “Ribs are almost done, was just about to take them off.”
She holds up two pints of ice cream. “Well now we have dessert, too.” Rocky Road and strawberry. Our favorites.
My chest feels tight and uncomfortable, as I cross to the cupboard and pull out a platter. The calm distance is unraveling, and I can sense the impending explosion. I just have no idea what shape it will take.
Lola putters around behind me, and when she walks over to the freezer to put everything away, I absolutely don’t look at her arse.
THE EXPERIENCE THROUGHOUT dinner puts me as close to torture as I’ve ever been. It never occurred to me that serving Lola barbecued ribs might have been a bad idea, and that for what watching her eat them does to me I might as well have handed her a banana, or reached across the table and had her suck my finger.
And so I spend a good part of the meal half-hard—again—and shifting in my seat as Lola sits across from me, working through some thoughts on her new book, and completely oblivious to my struggle. She’s clearly avoiding thinking about Austin’s ideas for Razor Fish, and I want to give her useful feedback, but it takes superhuman strength to drag my eyes from her mouth while she licks sauce from her fingertips.
Finally I give up, claiming a need to use the bathroom so I can get some air. I splash water on my face and give myself a long, hard look in the mirror.
This is exactly why I didn’t let things go too far between us in Vegas. Why—as much as I wanted to punch myself in the face at the time—I turned down her invitation to join her in a hotel room. Lola is smart and beautiful, and, knowing we were going to be living in the same city and I would really, really want to be her friend, I didn’t want to ruin things or make them weird by fucking her.
But things are definitely weird now.
We clean up dinner together, working side by side in companionable silence as we load the dishwasher and wipe the counters. She isn’t talking, but there’s a determination in the set of her jaw that says she’s thinking, plotting. It’s an expression I’m familiar with, though it seems different tonight. I’m not sure why but my stomach twists with nerves as the number of things keeping us in the kitchen and away from the comfortable sofa in my dark living room dwindles down to nothing.
What is she planning?
I tell her to go ahead and pick out a movie, and I watch from my spot near the stove as she scrolls through the choices on my iPad, her mouth turned down into a frown until she finds exactly what she wants.