“Hey.” He pauses, waiting for me to say why I’ve called. I did it as a cover, but now that I’ve got him on the phone, I realize how it feels like water is building behind a dam in my chest. Art and writing and the film and Oliver. My fits and starts of flirtation, the way I’m terrible at reading Oliver and even worse at trusting my own instincts with guys. It’s too much all at once on my plate.
I could have called one of the girls, but I almost regret talking to Harlow about it the other day and don’t want her poking me about Oliver right now. London is at work, and Mia can’t help but pass along everything she hears to Ansel.
“Tell me about everything that’s got you.”
“Who gave me a grown-up card? Like who thought that was a good idea?”
Dad laughs. “They give out grown-up cards? Huh. Must have passed me right up.” He inhales again, voice tight with a held breath when he says, “Spill.”
God, where do I even start? Dad would have opinions about Austin—he sounds too slick, do you really think he’s the right guy for this project?—and the idea of Razor as an alien from Mars—is he fucking kidding? Did he read the damn story? Talking to him about my work always triggers his protective don’t-let-them-screw-you instinct and, while I do love how proud he is of me, he has no experience with Hollywood. His opinions would be loud and unhelpful.
But the weirdest bit is that I don’t need to talk that out yet; work is always the one realm where I’ve felt confident, and besides, my reaction to Razor-as-Martian is still percolating. Oliver is what has me the most tangled and I may as well talk about that with someone who’s the least likely to dig too deep.
I chew on my nail before saying, finally, “I guess I’m in a weird place with Oliver.”
“Ah.” I hear him inhale sharply on the other end, can imagine the way he squints as he holds the cigarette between his lips. He blows out his breath. “We’re talking about this now?”
When Mom left, Dad had to take over all the aspects of raising a girl that would normally have gone to her—helping me sort through minor dramas, crushes, and heartbreaks, getting my period. He did it all with the kind of straightforward stoicism I’ve come to absolutely adore about him. He’s a teaser, a jokester, and uses sarcasm as a defense, but inside I know he’s soft. Inside, his heart is too big sometimes.
“So . . .” I start, squinting up at the sky. “I think I might want more.”
Dad clucks his tongue. “I don’t know, Boss. I can’t read that kid. I think he adores you, but is it more for him?”
This is the exact kind of honesty I need. Dad likes Oliver a lot, but he isn’t invested in the idea of us being romantic the way Harlow is. Frowning, I admit, “I don’t know. In Vegas it was pretty clear he wasn’t interested.”
“And Oliver’s a good friend,” Dad says. “You always gotta be careful when you try to make it more.”
I shrug, kicking at some dried leaves on the sidewalk. Dad is a mirror to my own thoughts on the matter. “Yeah.”
I hear him inhale and blow out smoke again before saying, “But I know we all got itches that need to be scratched.”
He laughs. “You do. Come on now. Keep things light and fun. Your life is nuts right now. First Razor Fish, now you’re writing more? And they’re making your goddamn movie?”
I look up at the skyline. I’ve worked so hard for all of this, but I find myself suddenly wanting to change the subject. “What are you doing tonight?”
I hear the scratch of his shoe on the concrete back porch as he puts out the cigarette and the bang of the screen door as he goes back inside. “I think Ellen is coming over here for dinner.”
Ellen. Dad’s new girlfriend, whom I trust about as far as the distance between my bent elbow and my middle finger. Dad is one of the smartest and best people I know, and deserves someone special. Ellen is a gum-addicted, fake-breasted cocktail waitress at T.G.I. Friday’s.
“I can tell you don’t like her.”
“She’s fun, Boss,” he says. “And she’s got a great rack.”
“Gross. I’m hanging up now. This was one hundred percent unhelpful.”
“Love you, too.” I shove my phone back into my bag and climb the metal stairs to the loft.
I know what I said is a lie: it wasn’t totally unhelpful. Sometimes Dad’s straight shot of honesty is exactly what I need. It may not be more than a friendship for Oliver, but even if it is, is that the best thing for us?
But almost as soon as I’ve slid the loft door closed, someone bangs on the other side. It’s two short hits with the side of a curled fist: Oliver.
I’m right there, pulling it open while his hand is still returning to his side.
He’s out of breath and swipes a hand through his hair. “Hey,” he says. “Can I come in for a minute?”
He walks past me into the living room and stares out the wall of windows for a few seconds until he catches his breath. He doesn’t seem to have come here for a sandwich, or to use the bathroom because the one at the store is broken, and the longer he takes to start speaking, the more anxious I become.