“Holy crap, I didn’t realize it was so late,” she says, and stands from the couch. “I have panels I want to finish. I should get back to Austin tonight, too.”
It takes me a moment to catch up with how quickly the moment has shifted. “You can call him from here,” I tell her, watching her absently tie her hair into a knot atop her head. I don’t want her to go. “I’ll stay out of your way.”
She moves to the kitchen and I can see her shadow against the wall. Lola pauses as she gathers her things. “It’s cool,” she says lightly. “I need to think about what I want to say, anyway.”
I stand and wait while she retrieves her keys and slips her shoes on at the door.
“You’ll text me when you get home?”
She nods, smiling up at me. “Of course. And thanks for dinner.”
She swings her keys around her index finger and looks back toward the living room. “Thanks for more than just dinner,” she says, staring at where we were just cuddled together. There’s a carcass composed entirely of sexual tension lying abandoned on the couch. I wonder if she can see it, too. “Thanks for being so badass. I know my life is a whole lot of crazy right now and you’ve got your own stuff going on. I appreciate that you put up with me making you be my big spoon tonight.”
I smile but don’t reply, because honestly, what can I say? That I’d put up with crazy around the clock, if it meant it was her crazy?
Finally she turns, reaching for the door. “You’re like my blanket fort.”
“I’ve been called worse things,” I tell her.
With a small smile, Lola pushes herself up on her toes and leans in, pressing her lips quickly to my cheek. “Night, Olls.”
And then she’s gone.
WHAT DOES ONE do after a night of intimate cuddling with a friend on a couch and then going home to a very cold, very empty apartment?
Well, first one pulls one’s vibrator from the bedside table. But the next day, one goes directly to said friend’s store and pretends not to watch him all day.
I honestly don’t know what is wrong with me. I vacillate so starkly between keep it in the friend zone and jump him immediately that I feel a little locked up every time I think about it. And the fact that, last night, Oliver didn’t seem all that opposed to the cuddling and the flirting? Encouraging, even? I just . . . I honestly don’t know what to do, and the person I most want to talk it out with—Oliver himself—is also the last person I want to talk it out with. I want to push, just a tiny bit, to see if things have changed and he’ll make a move. It’s just that I can never quite tell what’s going on in his head.
“Do you live here now, Lola?” Not-Joe asks from behind the counter as I walk past him to the back of the store. “Because if so, I could show you how to run the register so I can go smoke a blunt.”
“I heard that,” Oliver mumbles from across the store. He looks up as I pass and gives me a little smile.
There are a thousand words in that tiny expression¸ and I don’t speak the language.
“Stalking you two is one of the many perks of being a comic writer,” I answer, stretching out with my sketchpad on the new couch in the back corner. Lately, the front reading nook is almost always full of Oliver’s fangirls and high school kids sneak-reading Sex Criminals. “I get to hang out here all day and call it research.”
“She’s hiding from the paparazzi.” Oliver lifts his chin to the front window to indicate the lone man standing with a notepad near some parking meters. “It’s only eleven in the morning and he’s been there for two hours now,” he tells me. “I think he’s hoping to get an interview with you for his tiny free paper with a circulation of about five thousand in Chula Vista.”
I’m grateful for the steaming Starbucks cup in his hand because I suspect the time he took to go get that is the only reason I missed him on my way in.
Although the press release got widespread coverage, trending hashtags, and the Tumblr memes are already out in full force, so far the buzz is all about casting, and there doesn’t seem to be much more interest in me. Writers are boring. Introverted writers who don’t seek attention are even more so. I’ve been able to forward all of the big interview requests to Benny so far, or answer questions via email. Thankfully, for now, Angela Marshall was wrong about how my day-to-day life would change.
“What’d you do last night?” Not-Joe calls to me, handing a customer a bag and closing the register.
The man in question doesn’t look up when I say this, and again I wonder what’s going through his head. Is he thinking about how it felt to lie front to back on his couch? Is he thinking about how he maybe ate all the ice cream by himself after I left? Is he wondering what the hell got into me? I know I am.
I can’t say I regret it, though.
“This guy here made barbecue ribs,” I tell Not-Joe. “They were fantastic.”
Oliver’s eyes meet mine for a brief second and then he looks away, fighting a smile.
“So, eating meat off some bones, then?” Not-Joe asks, grinning at me. “Sucking off the hot juices?”